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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 July, 2003, 07:34 GMT 08:34 UK
Trimble defeats no confidence vote
David Trimble
David Trimble has defeated a vote of no confidence
David Trimble has defeated a vote of no confidence as Member of Parliament for Upper Bann, in the latest wrangle within the Ulster Unionist Party.

It comes a day after a court ruled as invalid the suspension of three rebel MPs, who quit the party whip at Westminster in protest at the policies of Mr Trimble, the party leader.

Members of David Trimble's constituency party met to debate the vote, with 115 voting in favour of Mr Trimble, rejecting the motion, and 69 voting against him.

It means that the party leader has been backed by 62.5% of his constituency association, at the meeting in County Armagh.

Go away and reflect on where you stand as leader of the Ulster Unionist Party
Robert Oliver
Ulster Unionist

The dissidents were not expecting to win the vote but believed Mr Trimble had been further weakened by Monday's High Court judgement.

Speaking afterwards, the Ulster Unionist leader said he was delighted at the outcome but saddened at divisions in the party.

"I'm sad that division is detracting attention away from the real underlying problem which is continuing paramilitary activity," he said.

However, Ulster Unionist Robert Oliver, who tabled the motion, said Mr Trimble had walked away with nearly 40% of his constituency association saying "we are fed up with you".

He added: "Go away, reflect on where you stand this evening and reflect on where you stand as leader of the Ulster Unionist Party."

Earlier, former assembly member George Savage, who was one of Mr Trimble's biggest supporters, refused to say if he would back the party leader.

Mr Savage is seen as a key figure within the Upper Bann association.

He beat the party leader nine months ago to top the poll when delegates selected their candidates for the assembly elections.

David Burnside (right), Martin Smyth (centre) and Jeffrey Donaldson
The three MPs' legal action was successful

Mr Trimble's opponents within the constituency association said anything over 35% for their motion would damage the Upper Bann MP, whose parliamentary majority in the constituency slipped from 16,000 in 1992 to about 2,000 at the last election.

In a letter to the delegates, Mr Trimble said they could still draw back from "this damaging row" and they must have their arguments "behind closed doors".

On Monday, Mr Justice Paul Girvan said the suspension of three rebel MPs was invalid because a disciplinary committee set up by Ulster Unionist Party officers had been "improperly constituted".

Jeffrey Donaldson, the Reverend Martin Smyth and David Burnside were suspended last month after resigning the party whip at Westminster.

The resignation move was designed to increase pressure on Mr Trimble by refusing to endorse his policy on the British-Irish joint declaration.

'Party unity'

However, Monday's ruling means that the MPs are once again members of the Ulster Unionist Party.

A disciplinary hearing has been scheduled to take place on 17 July.

A vote of no confidence in the Lagan Valley constituency against Mr Donaldson was dropped "in the interests of party unity" following his narrow defeat in a vote taken by the UUP's 900-strong ruling council.

In June, Mr Trimble narrowly fended off a challenge from party rebels, led by Mr Donaldson, who wanted the party to reject the recent British and Irish joint declaration.

The joint declaration, released in May, outlined plans to reduce troop numbers to 5,000 as part of an attempt to move the Northern Ireland political process forward.

It included five annexes dealing with security normalisation, policing and justice, human rights and equality, on-the-run paramilitaries and mechanisms to verify and monitor any deal.

Northern Ireland's devolved administration was suspended last October amid allegations of IRA intelligence gathering in the Stormont government.

BBC NI's political editor Mark Devenport
"Both sides in the dispute drew very different conclusions from the result"

BBC NI political correspondent Gareth Gordon
Gets some reaction within the Upper Bann constituency to the vote

Rebel MPs' suspension 'invalid'
07 Jul 03  |  Northern Ireland
Court told of UUP suspensions
03 Jul 03  |  Northern Ireland
No confidence motion move
18 Jun 03  |  Northern Ireland
MPs play down confidence vote
13 Jun 03  |  Northern Ireland
'No confidence' in unionist MPs
12 Jun 03  |  Northern Ireland

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