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Ulster Unionists Dermot Nesbitt and Dennis Watson
debate the planned changes
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Monday, 17 April, 2000, 12:42 GMT 13:42 UK
Unionists debate Orange Order ties
David Trimble
David Trimble wants to curb the Orange influence
A leading anti-Good Friday Agreement Ulster Unionist has spoken out against proposals to curb the power of the Orange Order within the party.

The Search for Peace
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Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson has criticised the moves which would deprive the Protestant institution of a 120-strong voting block on the UUP ruling council.

The reforms put forward by party leader David Trimble also included a proposal to cut the voting power of the mainly anti-Agreement Young Unionists.

"It would not be in the best interests of the UUP to cut its links with the Orange Order," said Mr Donaldson.

He urged the party to debate the issue but to reach a consensus rather than engage in an "unseemly row" which could end up in the courts.

Reacting to questions about the Orange Order's perception as an anti-Catholic organaisation, the Lagan Valley MP said the UUP did not expect to win converts from nationalism simply because it changed its structures.

Jeffrey Donaldson: Proposed reform would not win nationalist converts
He pointed out that many members of the UUC, apart from delegates nominated by the Orange Order, were also members of the Protestant body.

He added it would be wrong to assume all Orange Order delegates opposed the Good Friday Agreement.

Mr Trimble has denied the proposal was a result of his narrower than expected victory in a leadership contest with the Reverend Martin Smyth last month.

He told the paper: "This is not something dreamed up in response to last month's Balmoral result.

"These discussions have been ongoing for a number of months."

The UUP has always regarded as a broad church but I'm afraid he may be trying to turn it into a Trimble cult

David Brewster
The move would affect the strong ties that have linked the Ulster Unionists to the Orange Order since the party's formation in 1905.

Leaders, including Mr Trimble, have often been members of both organisations.

But the decision to reform the party, which would mirror Labour's attempts to disentangle itself from the trade union movement, is likely to anger some anti-Agreement elements within the party.

Mr Trimble told the paper he intended to put the reform proposals to the UUP's rules revision committee in June - ahead of the Orange Order's 12 July celebrations.

"If we are to get the proposals through for next year's AGM, they will have to be put to the UUC in the autumn," he said.

Rev martin Smyth
Smyth: Failed in leadership bid
But a leading Ulster Unionist critic of the Good Friday Agreement has warned that Mr Trimble's plans could create rifts within the party.

David Brewster said Mr Trimble's announcement "sounded like the first shot" in a squabble between pro and anti-Agreement factions.

"This move is a bit like a doctor faced with a patient who is haemorrhaging and who decides to rip out the backbone. It is foolish in the extreme," he said.

"But then you have to look at David Trimble's own political track record.

"When he was in Vanguard (a political party opposed to power-sharing in 1974, of which Mr Trimble was deputy leader), he was prepared to split it and send it into electoral oblivion and that is what he did.

"I'm afraid he is attempting to do the same again with the Ulster Unionists with this attempt to reduce the influence of those who oppose him in the party.

"The UUP has always regarded as a broad church but I'm afraid he may be trying to turn it into a Trimble cult."

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See also:

15 Apr 00 | Northern Ireland
Trimble 'plans Orange split'
28 Mar 00 | Northern Ireland
'Orange card' threat to Trimble
23 Mar 00 | Northern Ireland
Challenge further divides unionists
23 Mar 00 | Northern Ireland
Trimble faces leadership fight
23 Mar 00 | Northern Ireland
Martin Smyth: A hardline challenger?
23 Mar 00 | Northern Ireland
Defining moment for Ulster Unionist Party
17 Mar 00 | Northern Ireland
Unionists clash over RUC reforms
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