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BBC NI's Marie Louise Connolly profiles challenger
Martin Smyth is not viewed as a serious player in the peace process
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Thursday, 23 March, 2000, 16:03 GMT
Martin Smyth: A hardline challenger?
Rev Martin Smyth
The Rev Martin Smyth reflects on his challenge
The first formal challenge to David Trimble's leadership of the Ulster Unionist Party has the potential to garner support from all elements of the party.

The challenger, the Reverend Martin Smyth, has been the MP for South Belfast since 1982 and was the Grand Master of the Orange Order between 1972 and 1998.

A Presbyterian minister, he resigned his ministry and was elected to Parliament in the 1982 by-election following the assassination of the Reverend Robert Bradford MP by the IRA.

He was an unsuccessful candidate for the leadership in 1995 after the resignation of Lord Molyneaux. On that occasion he finished fourth as David Trimble won.

The Rev Smyth is known to hold anti-Good Friday Agreement views and voted against the accord when it was agreed in April 1998.

However, he is attempting to steer a middle course, aimed at attracting support from the pro and anti factions within the party.

In November last year, he was among the anti-Agreement faction secured 42% of the votes from the 800-member council on the issue of entering government prior to decommissioning by the IRA. Mr Smith will be aiming to use this as a basis for his challenge.

He could attract support from supporters of the Agreement who are disillusioned over issues such as the early release of paramilitary prisoners and the threat to change the name of the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

His record suggests he may not be as hardline as might first seem.

He is in favour of devolution though he firmly believes that Sinn Fein should be excluded until the IRA begins a weapons handover.

Prepared to talk with Sinn Fein

In 1987, he argued for the development of a federal system of government covering the entire UK and including a parliament for Northern Ireland in Belfast.

Under this proposal, there would be a place left for the return of the Republic of Ireland to the UK.

Years later in 1993 he was targeted for criticism by the hard-line Democratic Unionist Party because he suggested during an interview with the BBC that Sinn Fein could take part in talks under certain conditions.



Reverend Martin Smyth: Voted against Good Friday Agreement
Martin Smyth has been closely identified with the old style of leadership which the party had under Lord Molyneaux and this may be an important factor when the votes are being cast on Saturday.

As a past Grand Master of the Orange Order, he will hope to gain the vast majority of the organisation's hundred-plus votes at the party's council meeting.

Reverend Smyth's age may also prove to be a telling factor.

Staunch Trimble supporter, Ken Maginnis MP said he was "slightly surprised" that someone who would be 70 by the next General Election was standing for leader.

But commentators are describing his challenge as a "serious" threat, which could at the very least cause Mr Trimble some longer term political damage.

Mr Smyth and his supporters will be hoping that it will also force the Ulster Unionist leader to harden his attitude towards any future administration that might contain Sinn Fein.

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23 Mar 00 | Northern Ireland
Trimble faces leadership challenge
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