Belfast Telegraph

Trimble rivals show new rift

By Noel McAdam, Political Correspondent nmcadam@belfasttelegraph.co.uk

Divisions among senior Ulster Unionists who have been plotting to depose David Trimble as leader are growing - but a challenger may still emerge.

DIVISIONS among senior Ulster Unionists who have been plotting to depose David Trimble as leader are growing - but a challenger may still emerge.

Amid ongoing plans to isolate Mr Trimble further, there appear to be disagreements over strategy and future policy among his internal opponents.

With three weeks before the party's annual meeting, a number of party figures who were expected to make their private views public have so far remained silent.

In the week since MP David Burnside issued his call for Mr Trimble to stand aside and claimed there has been a "sea-change" against the leader, just one local councillor has broken cover.

Former Trimble supporter Henry Reilly has joined the calls for the leader to stand down and allow the party a 'fresh start'.

But the Mourne councillor also made clear if Mr Trimble remains as leader after this month's meeting, which he agrees is the most likely outcome at this stage, he would continue to work for the party.

And he added: "None of this is David Trimble's fault. He has done his best, but he has lost the trust of a significant number of traditional unionists.

"In time people will see the benefit of what Trimble tried to do, but his departure now would allow traditional unionists to come back into the fold and I believe the party will recover."

Senior Trimble loyalist Dermot Nesbitt warned, however: "This is not about changing policy, it is pure personality. I do not believe in deserting a leader who has taken the risks and taken all the criticism. In fact I would feel I was a traitor if I did."

Mr Burnside said he had opened up the issue of the leadership for debate and it was now for others to make their positions clear.

"We have to see if there is a united alternative to Mr Trimble and we will find out in the next three weeks," he said.

Mr Trimble, meanwhile, said he viewed those who argued his decision to pull out of the review talks was designed to strengthen his position for a leadership challenge "with contempt".

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