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Monday, September 13, 1999 Published at 08:30 GMT 09:30 UK

UK: Northern Ireland

Mitchell talks to resume

Unionist thoughts on the review are split

Former US Senator George Mitchell is due to return to Belfast to reconvene his review of the Northern Ireland peace process.

The talks resume as David Trimble, the leader of the large Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), comes under increasing pressure from hardliners in his party to boycott the review.

The BBC's Tom Coulter: "David Trimble is increasingly isolated in his party"
The talks were adjourned after three days last Wednesday, to allow time for the publication of the Patten report on the future of policing in the province.

The 110-member executive of the UUP will meet in Belfast on Monday afternoon to discuss its response to the report's conclusions.

The Search for Peace
The report, many of whose 175 recommendations are likely to be implemented, has infuriated many unionists, particularly in its suggestion that the name of the Royal Ulster Constabulary should be changed to the Northern Ireland Police Service.

Many unionists see this as an insult to the force, which they believe has protected the community from many years of republican violence.

UUP split

But the meeting is also likely to decide whether the party should continue to be part of Mr Mitchell's attempts to restart the peace process.

[ image: Former US Senator George Mitchell has many hurdles to overcome]
Former US Senator George Mitchell has many hurdles to overcome
On Friday, UUP deputy leader John Taylor withdrew from the review, saying that it was not acceptable to involve Sinn Fein, the politican wing of the IRA, in the process while the IRA itself refused to disarm.

But party spokesman Ken Maginnis later said that Mr Taylor's stance did not reflect the attitude of the party's ruling executive.

Leader David Trimble has yet to respond.

Suggestions rejected

Meanwhile, senior Ulster Unionist negotiator Dermot Nesbitt has said the review of the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement cannot go on much longer.

Speaking ahead of the meeting of the UUP's ruling executive, Mr Nesbitt rejected suggestions that his party should withdraw from the process now.

He said: "We have provided for the best form of the structures of government you'll find anywhere in the world to accommodate diversity.

"It is now time for those who have used violence to jump ship and jump to the democratic process. I want to see peace as does David Trimble, and I believe the overwhelming majority within unionism."

Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam, who appealed to the UUP "from the bottom of her heart" not to abandon the talks, is due to meet the smaller Ulster Democratic Party in Belfast to discuss its response to the Patten report.

BBC Northern Ireland Correspondent Tom Coulter examines splits in the UUP
UDP leader Gary McMichael has said that if the proposals were implemented, they would meet strong opposition from unionists and could have serious implications for confidence in the peace process.

Polls show support slump

The meeting coincides with the publication of an opinion poll in Northern Ireland, showing that general unionist support for the peace process has slumped.

[ image: Trimble: Under pressure to pull out of the review]
Trimble: Under pressure to pull out of the review
The poll found that only 39% of the unionist majority of the population now supports the peace process begun under last year's Good Friday Agreement, compared with 59% in April.

The poll, carried out by Ulster Marketing Surveys (UMS), also indicated that most unionists (65%) were against Chris Patten's proposals.

Sixty-five percent of republicans, however, backed the Patten recommendations. Most also still backed the Good Friday accord.

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