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Saturday, 24 February, 2001, 09:52 GMT
Weir supporters to fight suspension
Supporters of Ulster Unionist Party assembly member Peter Weir have said they intend fighting his suspension from the party.
Mr Weir was suspended from the party because he consistently voted against the party line in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
The North Down assembly member, a fierce opponent of the Good Friday Agreement, was called before a disciplinary hearing on Friday evening.
A disciplinary committee suspended Mr Weir until further notice, after a three-hour hearing at Glengall Street in Belfast.
His supporters have said they will also try to ensure he retains his position as candidate in North Down at the next Westminster election.
Those who support the Good Friday Agreeement said Mr Weir has paid the price for not toeing the party line at Stormont.
But the West Tyrone MP William Thompson said he believed Mr Weir was being punished for being anti-agreement.
Mr Thompson said: "I think the leadership are very keen to get rid of Peter Weir in North Down.
"Because I think they want to supplant him with someone who is more suitable to them.
"In other words, someone who supports the agreement in the way that the leader of the party would wish it to be supported."
The South Antrim assembly member Duncan Shipley-Dalton has said he would be interested in taking over from Mr Weir as North Down candidate.
But the likelihood that Mr Weir will try to over-turn the suspension, means the situation is somewhat confused.
On Friday, Lady Sylvia Hermon, who chairs the party's North Down constituency association, said she did not want to comment until she had been officially informed of the disciplinary committee's decision.
A six-person panel conducted the hearing at the party's headquarters in Belfast, where Mr Weir had to give an account of his voting record.
Afterwards, Mr Weir left without making any comment.
In 1999, Mr Weir lost the party whip at the assembly for refusing to toe the party line.
He is also believed to have an uneasy relationship with his party leader, First Minister David Trimble.
His selection in North Down was seen as a blow to the pro-agreement faction of the party.
Last year, he was ordered out of the inaugural meeting of a new party grouping, Re-Union, set up to encourage people to play a fuller part in politics.
Mr Trimble told Mr Weir the meeting was private and he had not been officially invited.
The group said it had nothing to do with the ongoing internal party debate between those who favour the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and its opponents.
BBC News Online wishes to make it clear that East Londonderry MP William Ross was not on the panel which considered Mr Weir's case. His name was incorrectly linked to the panel.