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Friday, 27 October, 2000, 12:30 GMT 13:30 UK
Head-to-head: Donaldson and Trimble

There is little sign of a compromise between opposing factions in the Ulster Unionist Party on the eve of a crucial meeting of its ruling council.

Hardline MP Jeffrey Donaldson has put forward proposals which would see the party quit power-sharing with Sinn Fein before Christmas, if the IRA has not started handing over its guns.

Party leader David Trimble said the plan was "fatally flawed" and compared it to a Christmas wish-list sent to Santa.

Here, the two go head to head

Jeffrey Donaldson

I want the party to reinstate its policy, its manifesto pledge to the people of Northern Ireland, a pledge that was fashioned in the words of David Trimble as "no guns, no government".

At the moment, we're paying the price for having abandoned that policy. We paid that price in South Antrim and at successive by-elections. Clearly the present strategy has failed.

We've got to find an alternative way forward and I believe my proposals represent a viable alternative to a failed strategy.

We did have a deadline in May. The only problem was that the two governments, the leadership of the Ulster Unionist Party and the SDLP walked away from that deadline. They let the IRA off the hook. We were told a new deadline had been set in June next year.

Are we now being told that there is no deadline for decommissioning? That the IRA have an open book, can go on just as they are and we're never going to draw a line on this issue? That's what you mean when you say deadlines don't work and let's not set deadlines. The only reason deadlines don't work is when the people who set them walk away from them.

We've been tearing ourselves apart, we've had the divisions within the party

Jeffrey Donaldson

I was meeting two members of the Ulster Unionist Assembly Party (in UUP headquarters on Thursday). Two men who were acting in good faith.

We were trying to close the gap in terms of the proposals. Those two senior members were reporting to the party leader and two others (with a view to seeing if the party could finalise an agreed proposal).

We were making a genuine attempt. For the last two weeks I've been working trying to build a consensus within the party. We've been tearing ourselves apart, we've had the divisions within the party. At the start of this week, I called for a mature and reasoned debate and what do I find?

My proposals were being rubbished. I was being rubbished.

I know that the two men were as astounded as I was to hear that as we were meeting to try to close the gap, reach some form of consensus, that a press conference had taken place at Stormont which was deeply damaging to the prospect of rebuilding a consensus within the party.

Do the 47% of the party that I represent not count for anything? Is no-one in the leadership prepared to listen to what we have to say? Or are we going to try to rebuild a consensus within the party, around which we can actually draw it together. That's what I'm trying to achieve.

I haven't heard any viable alternative to what I've put forward. The strategy we adopted in May has failed and we've got to find some other way forward.

David Trimble

Mr Donaldson cannot expect to put forward proposals and be immune from criticism. He put ideas into the public domain. I criticised those ideas and I'm perfectly entitled to do so.

Yes, of course there were proposals being discussed. There were people who were exploring possibilities and those people put various specific proposals to Mr Donaldson.

Yet, Mr Donaldson went ahead and published proposals completely at variance with them. We saw Mr Donaldson's wish list which is completely unrealistic, on Thursday morning. It was to us a complete and effective repudiation of what had been going on in the background.

So I think we've had some rather tendentious, special pleading and I'm sorry to say this Jeffrey, but don't be so precious. If you're going to come into the political arena and criticise other people for their ideas, you can't be surprised if your own ideas come under scrutiny.

I would have liked to have seen some proposals around which the party could have united, but the things that came through the letterbox yesterday, were really quite unrealistic.

There's a simple way in which these matters are resolved that is thorough the democratic process. When we made an agreement, we took it to the party and got a considerable endorsement.

That was a confrontational act done by Jeffrey and his colleagues who signed a requisition and came charging in

David Trimble

Instead of accepting that, we had people who formed a group within the party, who launched a campaign within the party, who formed a party within a party and have been waging constant warfare against the party over two and a half years. We've had 21 meetings of our executive of our council in which these matters have been there. There have been votes.

And yet we have yet to reach a point where people will accept those votes.

Of course, I listen to people, as leader I'm obliged to listen to people.

There are plenty of opportunities to discuss these matters rather than to immediately launch into a full scale assault on the party, by summoning party meetings. That's not the action of a person who wants to provide unity in the party.

That was a confrontational act, done by Jeffrey and his colleagues who signed a requisition and came charging in. And insisted on a meeting as soon as possible and didn't allow opportunity for discussion within the party. Those are the facts.

We have never ended the link between decommissioning and devolution. Our objective is to achieve both. We don't want to see a situation where we have neither.

I'm not concerned about the mechanics of decommissioning, whether people saw them up, blow them, dump them in the sea or whatever. What I think is necessary is that the weapons should be permanently out of commission, permanently unusable.

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See also:

26 Oct 00 | Northern Ireland
IRA arms dumps re-visited
26 Oct 00 | Northern Ireland
Dissidents set new arms deadline
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