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The BBC's Denis Murray
"The process is back on track"
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Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble
"Republican promises must be delivered"
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Saturday, 27 May, 2000, 17:01 GMT 18:01 UK
Unionists back power-sharing

The victor and the vanquished at the Waterfront Hall
Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble has secured the backing of his party to return to Northern Ireland's power-sharing executive.

Mr Trimble won a crucial vote of his party's 860 member ruling council to pave the way to go back into government with republicans.

The former first minister convinced delegates to test the 6 May IRA offer to put its arms beyond use.

Delegates voted by a narrow margin of 459 to 403 in favour of a return to devolved government. One vote was spoiled.

Announcing that he had signed the order to return devolved power to Northern Ireland on Tuesday, Secretary of State Peter Mandelson said that the UUP had given a "second chance" to the people who wanted peace.

Under the order, power to Northern Ireland's assembly and executive will be restored from midnight on Monday night. The first meeting of the restored assembly will take place on 5 June.

The vote breaks down in percentage terms as 53.2% in favour of the proposal to return to government with Sinn Fein and 46.8% against.

Following the announcement of the result just before 1400 BST, Mr Trimble said the party had "stretched" itself "remarkably".

"There is a limit to the extent we can stretch ourselves without an adequate response being made in the circumstances," he said.

"We will hold republicans to their promises.

"If there is any foot dragging or delay, there will be difficulties."

Devolution timetable
Order already signed
Direct rule ends midnight Monday
Executive restored at the same time
Restored Executive meets on Thursday
Assembly convenes on 5 June
The Northern Ireland secretary congratulated the Ulster Unionist leader on his victory after signing the order to restore power and end direct rule.

"It is that victory which provides the breakthrough people in all parts of the community in Northern Ireland have been waiting for," said Mr Mandelson.

But while he added that the vote was a demonstration that unionism could move forward, Mr Mandelson stressed that he had not given the party any private special assurance on the reforms of the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

Dissident Ulster Unionst MP William Ross described the result as a "pyrrhic victory".

"This is the worst possible result for the party," said the East Londonderry MP.

The leader of the anti-agreement Democratic Unionist Party, Ian Paisley, accused Ulster Unionists of being part of an "ongoing process aimed at achieving a united Ireland and elevating the IRA".

Yes vote supporters
Trimble supporters win the day
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams said the Ulster Unionists had made the "right decision which will be welcomed by the people of this island and beyond".

Mr Adams added that the onus was now on everyone to honour their commitments.

In Dublin, Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern also welcomed the UUC decision.

"We now have a chance to prove on a sustained basis that the agreement can work for everyone."

The vote comes three months after the power-sharing executive was suspended by the UK Government because of an impasse over IRA arms decommissioning.

The vote by unionists means ministers from both sides of the community could be back at their desks within days.

Delegates debated a starkly worded motion which sought their endorsement of "the report of the leader, the Right Honourable David Trimble".

Review group established

An alternative proposal for a phased implementation of the Good Friday Agreement tabled by party dissident Jeffrey Donaldson was not debated.

The Lagan Valley MP's proposal would have entailed the delay of the executive's return until the IRA began decommissioning its illegal weapons.

John Taylor: Support 'crucial' for Mr Trimble
Mr Trimble is understood to have proposed the establishment of an internal review group which would report on issues such as progress on decommissioning and the RUC name.

The backing at the last minute of UUP deputy leader John Taylor for the return of power-sharing is believed to have been a key factor in Mr Trimble's victory.

Mr Taylor had been wavering in his support for a return to power-sharing because of concerns over the issues of retaining the RUC name and flying the Union Flag.

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See also:

27 May 00 | Northern Ireland
Mixed reaction to devolution vote
27 May 00 | Northern Ireland
Returning to power
27 May 00 | Northern Ireland
Mandelson hails 'second chance'
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