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First Minister and UUP leader David Trimble
"We are deeply disappointed - but we are not quitters"
 real 28k

The BBC's Tom Coulter
"The UUP's worst nightmare became a reality"
 real 56k

The Reverend William McCrea
"We are going to sweep away those who have betrayed this country"
 real 28k

Poliltical Analyst Dr Sydney Elliott
"Apathy was the true winner in the Antrim South by-election"
 real 28k

Democratic Unionist Party leader Ian Paisley
"Eight of the sitting UUP MPs would lose their seats on the figures of the South Antrim swing"
 real 28k

Friday, 22 September, 2000, 20:38 GMT 21:38 UK
UUP 'will learn' from election defeat
William McCrea: DUP MP
Wiliam McCrea: Celebrating his victory in South Antrim
The Ulster Unionists will learn from losing their formerly safe South Antrim seat in a parliamentary by-election and live to fight on, a senior party figure has said.

Reverend William McCrea of the anti-Good Friday Agreement Democratic Unionist Party claimed the seat left vacant by the death of sitting MP Clifford Forsythe.

The former Mid Ulster MP took what had been the second safest Ulster Unionist seat with a 16,000 majority, and the result was seen by many commentators as a serious setback for the Northern Ireland peace process.

But assembly minister Michael McGimpsey rejected calls from the DUP and from within his own party for Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble to resign or change tack away from the agreement.

Mr McCrea polled 11,601 votes, giving him a majority of 822 over the second-placed UUP candidate, David Burnside.

Jeffrey Donaldson MP
Jeffrey Donaldson MP: "We cannot sustain current position"

As Ulster Unionists gathered on Friday to consider the implications of the defeat, MP Jeffrey Donaldson described the result as a "disaster" for the party and called on the leadership to leave the assembly executive.

He said the concerns of the electorate reflected in the result showed the UUP could not "sustain a position" in which they shared power with Sinn Fein while the IRA held its weapons.

"Unless we get our act together fast we will pay a very heavy price at the next election."

Leadership threat

After a bruising day of criticism David Trimble was publicly showing a brave face and jesting about the strain the result put on his leadership of the party.

He said he had no intention of stepping down as first minister, despite calls from DUP leader Ian Paisley to resign.

"We've had a setback, but we're not quitters," he told reporters.

We're not quitters - we knew that this was not going to be easy and we're deeply disappointed that we did not do better

David Trimble
He said his opponents inside and outside the party had no workable alternative to the agreement.

But he has already had to fight one party leadership battle from the anti-agreement wing of his party this year.

And he warned that the government, nationalists and republicans needed to consider the concerns of Ulster Unionist voters on police reform and disarmament which made them stay away from the polls.

The low turnout of 43% was believed to have favoured the DUP.

However, speaking to the BBC, sports minister Michael McGimpsey said that although the UUP was "disappointed" by the result, it was not panicking.

Michael McGimpsey: "We will listen to the electorate"
He said: "At least half of our electorate did not come out and support us and they are telling us something, which we will be looking very hard at over the next few days.

"They are expressing frustrations as far as Patten and the issue of policing is concerned. There is also the issue of loyalist violence. They said they didn't sign up to it [in the Good Friday Agreement]."

Dismissing Jeffrey Donaldon's comments he said: "We do not knee-jerk. We are not hysterical. We are not down-hearted. We learn our lessons and we never give up."

"As far as David Trimble is concerned there is no alternative. We have been waiting for two years to hear an alternative to the agreement, but there is none."

Alert breaks up meeting

A bomb alert broke up the Ulster Unionist meeting in Templepatrick at the Novotel Hotel for a time. The meeting resumed when nothing was found.

Meanwhile, William McCrea slammed the "arrogance" of the Ulster Unionist leadership's response to the result.

"David Trimble won't accept the blame. He blamed the weather and the Patten report, but he didn't mention himself," he told the BBC.

DUP leader Ian Paisley said if the South Antrim election result were to be repeated across Northern Ireland in a general election, his party would win the eight seats currently held by the UUP.

He challenged the sitting UUP MPs to resign their seats, saying his party would fight every one of them.

"If our opponents still feel their 71% [who voted for the agreement in the 1998 referendum], why do they not have another referendum," he added.

DUP deputy leader Peter Robinson sad the result showed a "sea change" and that unionism was now being led by his party.

Trimble's Next hurdle

Mr Trimble's next hurdle is in a few weeks time when the South Antrim defeat will be at the top of the UUP's annual conference agenda in early October.

Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble
David Trimble: Party conference is next hurdle
Deputy First Minister Seamus Mallon said the by-election result had been a blow to the pro-agreement parties.

But he added the work of the executive and assembly should and would continue.

Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly rejected Mr Trimble's assessment that nationalists and republicans had made his party's position more difficult by their demands for further police reform concessions.

Republic of Ireland Prime Minister Bertie Ahern said the result was not a serious obstacle to the peace process.

Throwing his support behind Mr Trimble, Peter Mandelson asked who could provide an alternative to his leadership that would "bring peace and resolution of the conflict of Northern Ireland?"

However he added: "The overriding imperative for and my colleagues is to make sure than an agreement that has been made, sticks."

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See also:

22 Sep 00 | Northern Ireland
Poll defeat 'disaster' for UUP
22 Sep 00 | Northern Ireland
Blow to NI peace deal
22 Sep 00 | Northern Ireland
The gospel-singing MP
29 Apr 00 | Northern Ireland
MP's death adds to pressure on Trimble
15 Sep 00 | Northern Ireland
Peace process 'at risk' over policing
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