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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 August, 2003, 16:59 GMT 17:59 UK
Senior unionist denies party split
Michael McGimpsey rejects talk of a UUP split
A former Ulster Unionist minister has dismissed speculation that David Trimble is losing support within his party and is about to be ousted as leader.

Michael McGimpsey also rejected the notion the party was about to split.

The former culture minister was speaking as Mr Trimble began a tour of his constituency associations to brief grassroots on the state of the political process.

Mr McGimpsey hit out at members of the party who were criticising the initiative.

"I don't believe that there is an alternative individual within the party who can carry this burden," he said.

"I don't think anybody in the party actually desires the leadership as far as the contenders are concerned.

Council meetings have always been very positive because it gives one an opportunity to meet all the delegates from all over Northern Ireland
David Trimble
UUP leader

"Of course we have to wait and see, but I think that as far as the leadership is concerned, my view is that his leadership is firm, it is secure and I think the reality is that there is no alternative and we will carry on."

Mr Trimble is facing moves to challenge his authority at a 900-strong Ulster Unionist Council meeting which could decide the fate of three rebel MPs.

A request has been made to call the council together to discuss disciplinary action against Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson, South Antrim MP David Burnside and South Belfast MP Martin Smyth.

However, Ulster Unionist Party officers are to seek legal advice over the validity of that call.

Speaking on Tuesday, Mr Trimble said he thought there would be a council meeting next month.

"I look forward to the opportunities for me to actually interface with our delegates," he said.

"Council meetings, from my point of view, have always been very positive because it gives one an opportunity to meet all the delegates from all over Northern Ireland and bring them up to date with what the situation is and to explain to them the challenges of the day.

"If that happens, I'll be delighted."

It is understood the aim of Mr Trimble's tour on Monday and Tuesday is to update and brief party members on the current situation.

Some of the meetings have been criticised for excluding supporters of the three MPs, but one, in Newcastle, was attended by some members of Jeffrey Donaldson's family.

Mr Trimble and Mr Donaldson may come face to face on Tuesday as party officers meet to finally establish when the potentially decisive meeting of the Ulster Unionist Council will take place.

A motion is already before the party deploring the decision of officers to set up a disciplinary committee and calling for charges to be withdrawn.

The three MPs were suspended from the party in June after quitting the Westminster whip in protest at the policies of Mr Trimble.

However, despite the High Court ruling their suspensions unlawful, party officers voted to continue with disciplinary action.

David Burnside, Martin Smyth and Jeffrey Donaldson
David Burnside, Martin Smyth and Jeffrey Donaldson quit the party whip

A two-hour meeting at the party's headquarters last week failed to resolve the issue and the officers agreed instead to seek the opinion of legal counsel.

Mr Donaldson has called for the charges against the three to be withdrawn.

All three MPs have been charged with breaking an undertaking which they signed when they stood for election to take the party whip, and with bringing the party into disrepute.

Mr Smyth and Mr Donaldson are facing a charge of failing to implement decisions of the Ulster Unionist Council, in their capacity as party officers.




WATCH AND LISTEN
BBC NI's political correspondent Martina Purdy:
"Mr McGimpsey hit out at members of the party who were criticising the initiative"



SEE ALSO:
Trimble to brief party members
25 Aug 03  |  Northern Ireland
Unionist 'showdown' delayed
13 Aug 03  |  Northern Ireland


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