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The BBC's Denis Murray
"The assembly itself will sit again next Monday"
 real 28k

Sunday, 28 May, 2000, 21:18 GMT 22:18 UK
Vote deepens unionist rifts

Motion to exclude SF ministers unlikely to succeed
A rift is opening up between pro and anti-agreement Ulster Unionists following the party's vote to re-enter government with Sinn Fein.

Delegates at Saturday's Ulster Unionist Council meeting voted by a margin of 53% to 47% to back David Trimble's proposal to test the IRA offer to put its arms beyond use.

But anti-agreement party members have continued to voice their opposition to the restoration of devolution at midnight on Monday in advance of actual IRA decommissioning.

The build-up to the restoration of power continues this afternoon when Mr Trimble, the first minister, meets Seamus Mallon, from the SDLP, to discuss the power-sharing executive.

It is understood that dissident UUP assembly members (MLAs) may join with the anti-agreement Democratic Unionist Party in an effort to bar Sinn Fein members from taking their seats in the executive.

Under assembly rules, a petition signed by at least 30 members is required for a debate on a motion to exclude republicans.

Four Ulster Unionist MLAs, Roy Beggs, Pauline Armitage, Peter Weir and Derek Hussey, are being targeted for their support for such a move.

'Reasonable' possibility of motion

Peter Weir, who lost the party whip last year when he refused to back his leader's plans on governmental structures, said he had supported the motion before and would back it again.

"I will not support unreconstructed terrorists in government and I regard Sinn Fein in that category," he said.

"I think there is at least a reasonable possibility of the motion being put."

Such a motion is unlikely to be passed when the assembly re-convenes on 5 June, as it would need support from the nationalist parties, Sinn Fein and the SDLP.

But it would be embarrassing for Mr Trimble because it would show he no longer commanded the loyalty of the largest group of unionists within the assembly.

'Narrow' margin

The difficulties facing the Ulster Unionist leadership were underlined by senior negotiator, Sir Reg Empey.

Sir Reg Empey: Majority may evaporate
The former economy minister in the suspended executive said his party had no room for manoeuvre on the weapons issue.

"People are stretched to the limit and in many cases beyond.

"Unless the republican comes up with all its promises and delivers its promises, that margin will evaporate."

Meanwhile the DUP have yet to confirm whether or not their two ministers, Peter Robinson and Nigel Dodds, will resume their seats in the executive.

Tensions between Sinn Fein and Ulster Unionists surfaced on Sunday as Martin McGuinness described as "racist" comments by Mr Trimble that republicans needed to be "house-trained".

The party's education minister in the soon-to-be-restored power-sharing executive said the comments were "quite offensive" to nationalists.

Martin McGuinness: Trimble comments were 'offensive'
Speaking on BBC One's On The Record programme, Mr McGuinness said Mr Trimble's remarks during the press conference following the announcement of the result had sparked a furious reaction in the nationalist community.

"People view those comments as sectarian and racist," he said.

Republic of Ireland foreign minister Brian Cowen has said he was now confident the Good Friday Agreement would succeed.

Mr Cowen said the restoration of devolution would create a new political environment.

"The new context agreed between the parties can now proceed."

He said there was "a recognition by people on all sides that this matter cannot be resolved on a decommissioning-devolution axis".

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See also:

28 May 00 | Northern Ireland
Sinn Fein anger over Trimble comments
27 May 00 | Northern Ireland
Stormont prepares for power
27 May 00 | Northern Ireland
Unionists back power-sharing
28 May 00 | Northern Ireland
Church leaders' cautious welcome
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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