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Tuesday, 23 January, 2001, 13:55 GMT
Loyalist party split over peace accord
Ulster Democratic Party leader Gary McMichael
UDP leader Gary McMichael: "We tried to square the circle"
Up to 14 branches of the loyalist Ulster Democratic Party have quit the party because of their opposition to the Good Friday Agreement, it has been claimed.

The UDP is linked to the paramilitary Ulster Defence Association (UDA), the largest of the loyalist groups in Northern Ireland.

However, it has been claimed that the split will not affect the UDA ceasefire, declared in October 1994.

Party chairman John White said the south east Antrim, north Antrim and Londonderry branches had broken away from the party.

He said: "Obviously with so many areas affected by this decision there is a split in the party. It is a worrying development, but it's something which has been simmering for some time."

The UDP has no representatives in the Northern Ireland Assembly, but its leader, Gary McMichael, a councillor in Lisburn, County Antrim, is a member of the Northern Ireland Civic Forum.

Mr White insisted that the decision by the UDP branches to leave would not affect the UDA's formal support of party policy, which supports the Good Friday Agreement.

John White:
John White: "A worrying development"

He said: "Everybody knows we have our reservations about the agreement.

"In fact there are some who are deeply unhappy but we believe it provides the best framework to try to create political stability."

However, UDP leader Gary McMichael claimed only a third of the party had quit.

He said they had a right to their opinion and he did not think it would affect the UDA ceasefire.

"The position is what it has always been - the UDA must speak for itself.

"This is purely a UDP issue. Some people feel so fundamentally against the agreement they cannot remain to fight elections.

"The parting was amicable. We will continue to work together on issues of common concern.

"We have been trying to square the circle between those opposed to the agreement and those who believe it's the only way forward politically. Unfortunately we have not been able to square that circle."

Earlier this month, Mr McMichael said he might have to resign from the party because the majority of its members now opposed the agreement.

At one stage it was estimated that up to 75% of the party's membership were anti-agreement.

See also:

17 Jan 01 | Northern Ireland
UDA upsurge in violence
06 Jan 01 | Northern Ireland
Leader considers party's accord stance
25 Sep 00 | Northern Ireland
Forum seat for loyalist politician
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