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Tuesday, 30 October, 2001, 21:34 GMT
Meeting call 'an abuse' of rules
Northern Ireland Assembly
The vote for first minister will take place in Stormont
The Ulster Unionist Chairman, James Cooper, has said a request for a meeting of the party's ruling body is "an abuse" of the party's rules.

Hardline UUP members have collected the 60 signatures necessary to call for a meeting of the party's 860 member ruling body, the Ulster Unionist Council.

They want it to consider current party policy and the decision of party leader David Trimble to return to government with Sinn Fein following the IRA's decommissioning move last week.

An undisclosed amount of IRA weaponry was put beyond use in the presence of the three members of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning.

Mr Trimble resigned as first minister in July because of an absence of IRA decommissioning and then pulled his ministers out of the Northern Ireland Executive to put more pressure on republicans.

'An abuse'

Mr Trimble's decision to return to government was backed at a meeting of the 110-strong Ulster Unionist Party's executive on Saturday.

It passed a motion which called on the 28 UUP assembly members to back the party leader in Stormont on Friday for the post of First Minister.

However, two MLAs have said they may not vote for him, because they are unhappy with the the lack of detail about the IRA's move last week.

On Tuesday, Mr Cooper said there was no need for a meeting of the council, but that party officers would discuss the request on Friday.

"Really this party cannot go on like this.

James Cooper UUP chairman
James Cooper: Rules being abused
"What we had last Saturday was a vote in favour of the leader's motion to go back into the assembly carried by over 80% of the party's executive - drawn from right across the province.

"Here we have 60 signatures which is less than 10% of the party now calling for an Ulster Unionist Council. I think that really amounts to an abuse of the process."

David Trimble has consistently won backing for his policies at recent UUC meetings, but by an increasingly narrow margin.

To be re-elected as first minister along with the nationalist SDLP's Mark Durkan as deputy first minister, Mr Trimble will have to gain a majority of support within both the unionist and nationalist blocs in the assembly.

Speaking in Dublin on Tuesday, Mr Durkan said the next seven days would determine whether Northern Ireland could move into an era of peace "once thought beyond our reach".

The incoming SDLP leader urged unionists to back Mr Trimble in Friday's vote.

"The commencement of IRA decommissioning offers us a chance to take the gun out of Irish politics for good and to build a new society based not on coercion but consent," he said.

In a speech in the United States on Tuesday, Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowen repeated Dublin's welcome for the re-appointment of UUP ministers to the executive and Mr Trimble's decision to seek re-election as first minister.

He congratulated the UUP leader on securing "the very strong endorsement of his party's executive" for his moves last weekend.

Mr Cowen also said it was now "important that other paramilitary organisations follow the IRA in putting their weapons beyond use".

'Bogus move'

Meanwhile, the anti-Agreement Democratic Unionist Party threatened legal action over attempts by the Women's Coalition to change assembly rules to allow members to vote tactically with unionists.

The party has tabled an amendment to the Coalition's motion to suspend an assembly rule requiring members to give 30 days notice before changing their voting category.

The DUP's amendment requires that 45 days notice be given.

The party's deputy leader Peter Robinson said the Coalition move - aimed at ensuring David Trimble is re-elected first minister - is "bogus".

Ulster Unionist Party chairman James Cooper
"In any party there are bound to be people who do not always agree"
DUP deputy leader Peter Robinson
"The amendment to standing orders would not be illegal in itself"
See also:

29 Oct 01 | Northern Ireland
Trimble faces re-election battle
23 Oct 01 | Northern Ireland
Trimble 'satisfied arms beyond use'
24 Oct 01 | Northern Ireland
NI security cuts to begin
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