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Saturday, 10 November, 2001, 10:39 GMT
Party moves against rebels
Pauline Armitage and Peter Weir have right to appeal
Pauline Armitage and Peter Weir have right to appeal
The Ulster Unionist Party has expelled a rebel assembly member and suspended another after they voted against their leader's election as first minister.

An Ulster Unionist disciplinary committee expelled north Down assembly member Peter Weir and suspended east Londonderry member Pauline Armitage from the party on Friday afternoon.

Mrs Armitage, along with fellow hardliner Mr Weir, opposed her leader David Trimble's re-election to the top post in the Northern Ireland Assembly last Friday.

When they separately faced the panel at the party's headquarters in Belfast, they were accused of conduct detrimental to the interests of Ulster Unionism by ignoring the direct advice of the party's ruling executive and failing to back their party leader as first minister.

'Fair hearing'

Pauline Armitage said the hearing was "fair" but said she would have to consider whether she wanted to rejoin the party.

"They listened to me and I listened to them. I think in the end we both agreed to disagree," she said.

The two Ulster Unionists voted against David Trimble
The two Ulster Unionists voted against David Trimble

"I still believe that what I did was not detrimental to the Ulster Unionist Party. But they had a different view and that's life.

"I think if I want to come back, I will need to re-apply, and at that stage they may not want to take me back so it is fairly open."

Earlier, she said she did not regret opposing David Trimble's re-election and accused the party leader of single-handedly destroying the union.

Before his expulsion, Peter Weir said the issue was not about Pauline Armitage or himself but about party policies.

"I would like people to focus over the next few weeks on whether we actually have a process of decommissioning and how, as a party and as a community, we are going to fight this amnesty for terrorists."

"Because some people, particularly within the leadership are keen to see these issues buried."

Previous suspension

Mr Weir had been suspended from the party earlier this year for three months for refusing to toe the party line in assembly votes.

The two unionists attended a FAIR demonstration at Stormont on Friday
The two unionists attended a FAIR demonstration at Stormont on Friday
He said being disciplined by the same panel which he sat in front of in February amounted to "being tried by a kangaroo court".

Last Thursday, both party members voted with the anti-Agreement Democratic Unionist Party to oppose David Trimble's election in the assembly.

Although he gained an overall majority in the assembly, Mr Trimble failed to gain a majority within the unionist bloc in the assembly because of the way the two dissident members voted.

Right to appeal

Many of the assembly's key votes must have the backing of a majority within both the nationalist and unionist blocs to be carried.

Mr Trimble was only able to gain election along with deputy first minister and SDLP leader elect Mark Durkan on Tuesday after the centre Alliance Party agreed to redesignate three of its members as unionist in a second vote.

Mr Weir and Mrs Armitage have the right to appeal the decisions to the Ulster Unionist executive.

However, it is clear that the UUP leadership has sent out a message to other members that if they do not toe the party line at Stormont, they may not have a future in the party.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Mark Devenport
"This was Pauline Armitage's first offence"
The BBC's Mark Simpson
"The UUP leadership has sent out a message"
Pauline Armitage
"I think I would have to re-apply to join the party"

Assembly back

IRA arms breakthrough

Background

Loyalist ceasefire

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AUDIO VIDEO
See also:

02 Nov 01 | Northern Ireland
Peter Weir: The barrister rebel
02 Nov 01 | Northern Ireland
Pauline Armitage: Dissenting ex-soldier
02 Nov 01 | Northern Ireland
Trimble fails in vote for top post
15 Jun 01 | Northern Ireland
Ulster Unionist Party reinstate Weir
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