Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: UK: Northern Ireland
Front Page 
Northern Ireland 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

The BBC's David Eades reports
"There are plenty of people ready to help Martin Smith"
 real 28k

UUP leadership challenger Martin Smyth:
tells BBC NI's Wendy Austin: "My campaign will not be pro or anti Agreement"
 real 28k

Ken Maginnis MP of the UUP
"He will have to engage in a reunification of the party"
 real 28k

BBC NI's Mark Carruthurs interviews David Trimble
"I am surprised and disappointed"
 real 28k

Thursday, 23 March, 2000, 22:05 GMT
Trimble faces leadership fight
Graphic of David Trimble and Martin Smyth
Smyth believes he has 50/50 chance against Trimble
The Ulster Unionist leader has said he has "every confidence in the collective good judgement" of his party as he faces a leadership challenge on Saturday.

David Trimble said he was "surprised and disappointed" at the news that South Belfast MP Martin Smyth that he will attempt to take the party leadership from him at the Ulster Unionist Council meeting.

He was given a boost when he was given backing by the Ulster Unionist deputy leader John Taylor on Thursday night.

The Strangford MP said he would be voting for Mr Trimble in the leadership contest on Saturday.

Mr Trimble has been criticised by hardline members in his party for saying that he would be prepared to re-form the suspended powersharing government with Sinn Fein before IRA arms decommissioning, provided guarantees were given.

David Trimble
David Trimble: Trusting his party's "collective judgement"
But he challenged Mr Smyth to "explain to people clearly what the object is and what policy is being pursued" in his campaign.

The Ulster Unionist leader indicated that he believed the 860 member ruling council of the UUP would back him, as they have done in recent crucial votes on policy in the peace process.

"I am confident to leave the decision to the delegates and I hope that this will finally clear the air.

"The party then will be able to unite around the democratic decision that the council has taken, which decision I'm sure will be in line with the council's decision again and again over the last couple of years," he said.

Mr Smyth told BBC Radio Ulster he would "set out his stall" at a press conference on Friday.

He said his campaign would be neither pro nor anti the Good Friday Agreement.

But he said he would be representing a significant number of anti-Agreement unionists who have been increasingly critical of Mr Trimble's leadership, and would have the support of hardline UUP MP Willie Ross and other party officers.

Mr Smyth said it was "time for a more vigorous promotion of Ulster Unionist policy than all the in-fighting that is going on because of the departure from it".

He said he believed he had a "50/50 chance of succeeding unless other folk come forward" with alternative challenges.

The Search for Peace
More related to this story
Link to Good Friday Agreement
Link to Decommissioning
He said: "I believe that we want to see a form of devolution in Northern Ireland, accountable to the people of Northern Ireland and free from every pressure of terrorist campaigning."

The Ulster Unionist challenger said he "would be prepared to debate with Sinn Fein and recognise them as a bona fide party if there were no arms".

"I would talk to them as democrats and not as exponents of terror."

He said the UUP should be talking instead to the British, Irish and United States governments to find progress in the peace process.

Previous challenge

Martin Smyth has been a UUP MP for 20 years, a Protestant minister and a leading member of the Orange Order.

He failed in his leadership attempt five years ago after Jim Molyneaux's resignation, which led to David Trimble's election as leader.

But a power-struggle could damage Ulster Unionist unity, and is something the party leader could clearly do without at this time when the peace process is in disarray.

Speaking in Lisbon, where he is attending an EU summit, Prime Minister Tony Blair said it was "a very clear choice for people and the Ulster Unionist Party".

Hardline MP Willie Thompson:
Hardline MP Willie Thompson: "Smyth is man to unite UUP"
He said he had "a great deal of respect for David Trimble and the enormous courage he has shown in trying to give people a peaceful future in Northern Ireland".

Hardline Ulster Unionist MP for west Tyrone Willie Thompson welcomed Mr Smyth's move saying he was supported by the majority of UUP MPs and that he would unite the party.

However, deputy leader of the UUP John Tayor, party colleague Ken Maginnis and senior party negotiators Dermot Nesbitt and Michael McGimpsey have come out strongly in support of Mr Trimble.

The Ulster Young Unionist Council said all but one of its 34 delegates to the Ulster Unionist Council would vote for Mr Smyth.

On Saturday, the UUP ruling council will also vote on an emergency motion from the London-based unionist, David Burnside.

Mr Smyth has said he will vote in favour of the motion asking the party to refuse to take part in a new devolved government unless the title of the Royal Ulster Constabulary is retained. The RUC's name is due to be changed under the Patten reforms.

If passed, the motion would amount to a significant toughening of party policy.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
See also:

23 Mar 00 | Northern Ireland
Challenger is 'serious' threat
23 Mar 00 | Northern Ireland
Defining moment for Ulster Unionist Party
23 Mar 00 | Northern Ireland
Challenge further divides unionists
20 Mar 00 | Northern Ireland
Trimble flies in to political questions
17 Mar 00 | Northern Ireland
Trimble shift on guns
17 Mar 00 | Northern Ireland
Unionists clash over RUC reforms
21 Feb 00 | Northern Ireland
Your move, Trimble tells IRA
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to other Northern Ireland stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Northern Ireland stories