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Sunday, 28 January, 2001, 12:49 GMT
DUP not contesting anti-accord seats

Peter Robinson: Unionists want to "halt the endless concessions"
The Democratic Unionist Party is to step aside in the General Election in three Northern Ireland constituencies held by anti-agreement MPs.

Party deputy leader Peter Robinson said there would be no challenge to the sitting MPs in West Tyrone, South Belfast and North Down, if the candidates remained the same.

The DUP is opposed to the Good Friday Agreement and this tactic is aimed at maximising the anti-agreement vote in the election.

The prospect of an electoral pact in marginal Fermanagh/South Tyrone was also raised by the East Belfast MP.

But he said that would depend on the outcome of Monday's meeting of the Ulster Unionists' constituency association to select a candidate to take the place of the incumbent MP Ken Maginnis.

The DUP's Maurice Morrow would fight the election if the challenge came from pro-agreement James Cooper.

But Mr Cooper's biggest challenge for the candidacy will come from Arlene Foster, who is anti-agreement.

"My colleague, Maurice Morrow, has already made it clear that if the UUP reject Mr Cooper, that he will sit down with the anti-agreement candidate and seek to resolve the issue in the interests of unionists who are opposed to the Belfast Agreement," Mr Robinson said on Saturday.

However, Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble has accused the DUP of cynicism, saying the tactic would just spilt the unionist vote.

"The DUP should stop splitting the unionist vote and not put candidates up against any UUP seats," he said.

The three MPs who could benefit from the DUP strategy include Robert McCartney, leader of the United Kingdom Unionists, South Belfast MP, Martin Smyth of the UUP, and William Thompson of the UUP who holds the West Tyrone seat.

Mr McCartney already faces a challenge in North Down from anti-agreement UUP candidate Peter Weir.

Both Mr Smyth and Mr Thompson are likely to face selection challenges from hopefuls within the UUP, who are sympathetic to party leader David Trimble.

'Safe hands'

Mr Robinson said the DUP would still contest the North Belfast constituency, currently held by veteran Ulster Unionist Cecil Walker, a known opponent of the new political establishments.

Only last year the DUP won a significant by-election victory, taking the South Antrim constituency from the UUP following the death of sitting MP Clifford Forsythe.

Unionists, said Mr Robinson, wanted to "place their confidence in the safe hands of the DUP and start the task of putting things right".

"They want politicians who will stand up to IRA/Sinn Fein threats. They want to halt the endless concessions and repeated Trimble cave-ins.

"This is what the oncoming election will be about. Unionists will choose whether they want to endorse and extend David Trimble's contract to deliver concessions to republicans or support those who want to turn the tide."

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