Report: Ulster Leader Plans Split
Apr. 15, 2000
BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) _ Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble plans to propose radical party reforms to freeze out opponents of the province's Good Friday peace accord, The Sunday Telegraph reported.
The changes would prevent the Protestant Orange Order, Northern Ireland's major Protestant fraternal group, from sending 120 delegates to the 860-member policy-making council of the Ulster Unionists. That would end the Order's influence over party decision-making.
Ever since the mainly Protestant party was formed in 1905, it has had strong ties with the Orange Order. Party leaders, including Trimble, have often been members of both organizations.
Trimble, who narrowly survived a leadership challenge in March from lawmaker Martin Smyth _ a senior Orange Order figure _ said his proposals had been planned for months.
``This is not something dreamed up in response'' to the leadership vote, he told the newspaper.
Trimble said he also wants to strip the anti-Good Friday accord Young Unionists of their 34 seats at party meetings. He likely will submit his proposals to the party's rules revision committee in June, he told the newspaper.
Unionist David Brewster, a leading critic of the peace accord, said Trimble's plan could provoke serious party infighting.
``This move is a bit like a doctor faced with a patient who is hemorrhaging and who decides to rip out the backbone. It is foolish in the extreme,'' Brewster said.
Protestant hard-liners have vowed to topple Trimble if he tries to go back into government with Sinn Fein, the party linked to the outlawed Irish Republican Army. Trimble did so before, but in February, Britain suspended the fledgling power-sharing Cabinet _ the central objective of the 1998 Good Friday peace accord _ after just 11 weeks in office.