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Thursday, October 7, 1999 Published at 05:49 GMT 06:49 UK

UK: Northern Ireland

Trimble seeks to reassure Tories

David Trimble: Courting support from Tories in Blackpool

The Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble has said that he is still "optimistic" about the long term prospects for Northern Ireland.

He received a standing ovation from a crowd of several hundred at a fringe meeting at the Tory conference in Blackpool on Wednesday night.

The Search for Peace
More related to this story
George Mitchell Profile
Link to Good Friday Agreement
Link to Decommissioning
He said: "If we manage to make progress and get over present problems and get things moving in the way that I would like I don't think the problem we've is going to come back again, because society is changing.

"And we hope to advance those changes so that it doesn't come back again."

The First Minister of the Assembly earlier said that he does not believe the Conservative Party is playing politics with Northern Ireland.

He said he believed the Conservatives were genuinely concerned about the state of the peace process.

Mr Trimble was speaking after Conservative Party leader William Hague insisted at the conference that a bi-partisan approach to Northern Ireland still exists between his party and the Labour government.

The UUP leader has been reassuring senior Tories that he not going to take any risks.

And he has been invited to sit on the platform when the Tory conference debates Northern Ireland on Thursday.

But party dissidents including Jeffrey Donaldson, also attending the conference, have been challenging Mr Trimble's pro-Agreement stance.

[ image: Jeffrey Donaldson: An alternative must be considered]
Jeffrey Donaldson: An alternative must be considered
Mr Donaldson said on Tuesday night that if the Mitchell review failed, there should be an alternative means of providing local government and that people linked to terrorist organisations should be "set to the side" if weapons decommissioning does not start.

And Ulster Unionist Party deputy leader John Taylor has said he believes the Northern Ireland peace process could end within weeks with the IRA then returning to "full-scale violence".

He said: "My impression is the Mitchell review will run into the wall at the end of October, early November, and he'll return to the US saying he's failed."

Mr Trimble is likely to be criticised by UUP hardliners at his own party's conference on Saturday.

Hague would meet Sinn Fein

Meanwhile, William Hague has said he is prepared to meet Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams, although an invitation to Sinn Fein to speak at a fringe meeting at the conference was withdrawn last week.

[ image: Martin McGuinness: Time is running out]
Martin McGuinness: Time is running out
Sinn Fein chief negotiator Martin McGuinness is to meet John Bruton, the leader of Ireland's main opposition party in Dublin on Thursday.

Mr McGuinness has warned the agreement could collapse within weeks, unless progress was made in the current review being chaired by former US senator George Mitchell.

The review chairman said on Tuesday that the peace process was under "great stress" and that it was no exaggeration to say there was a real threat of the process not proceeding.

The Mitchell review was sparked by the collapse of talks at Stormont in July, following the Ulster Unionists' refusal to sit in government with Sinn Fein until the IRA began to decommission its weapons.

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