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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 January, 2004, 09:09 GMT
Unionists dissolve party group
The move is a further blow to David Trimble's leadership of the party
A branch of the Ulster Unionist Party is to be dissolved in County Down.

The decision was made after a meeting on Monday in which 26 members of the party's Kilkeel branch handed in their resignations.

Maynard Hanna, the secretary of the branch, said they were disillusioned with party policy and with the leadership.

"The party and its leadership has no identity whatsoever with the unionist populace on the ground here in Mourne," he said.

A senior Ulster Unionist Party spokesman said he was not surprised by the move.

Dermot Nesbitt said the position of the members of the Kilkeel branch were well known and at the same time other people were joining the party.

The Stormont executive is currently suspended
The Stormont executive is currently suspended

"It is not surprising because they were not supporting the party nor the leadership nor what it was trying to do," he said.

The move follows the decision by more than 30 Ulster Unionists in David Trimble's constituency to quit the party at the weekend.

The members walked out of an AGM of the party leader's Upper Bann Association which was attended by several hundred people on Saturday.

This latest devlopment comes days after the anti-Agreement Democratic Unionist Party claimed to have gained more than 100 new members from the Ulster Unionist Party in the Lagan Valley area.

Last month, Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson left the UUP along with assembly members Arlene Foster and Norah Beare.

The defections brought the DUP's strength at Stormont to 33, nine more than the UUP.

It also confirmed the DUP as largest Northern Ireland party at Westminster.

A review of the Good Friday Agreement is due to begin on 3 February, which will involve the British and Irish Governments and parties elected to the assembly last November.

The political institutions were suspended in October 2002 amid allegations of IRA intelligence-gathering in the Stormont government.

The parties went into the assembly election against the background of a deadlocked process.




WATCH AND LISTEN
BBC NI's Martina Purdy:
"The former branch secretary predicts the party as he knows it is on the way out"


BBC NI's Gareth Gordon
reports from Kilkeel


BBC NI's Mark Carruthers
speaks to Professor Rick Wilford



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