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New unionist dissidents step out into open

Party or grouping is next decision

By Noel McAdam and Adrain Rutherford

The first public steps towards the formation of a new unionist grouping to oppose the power-sharing devolved government have now emerged.

But there appear to be divisions among disaffected unionists over whether a formal party should be established or, at least at this stage, a pressure group to act as a focal point.

Some argue that the group should be ready to stand if Prime Minister Gordon Brown calls a snap General Election, or decides to go to the country in spring.

But others argue that a committee could act as a focal point to test the strength of opposition to the Executive headed by the DUP and Sinn Fein.

Former senior DUP figure Jim Allister addressed the gathering of around 100 in Moygashel, near Dungannon, last night and described the situation as a " work in progress".

But Mr Allister would have to stand down as an MEP to run in a Westminster fight and could risk losing his high profile while the next European election is not until 2009.

The meeting, in the village's Orange hall, was also attended by former DUP councillors Leslie Cubitt and Robin Sterling and Willie Frazer of the victims' group FAIR.

Mr Allister declined to answer questions when the meeting broke up around 10.30pm, but read a prepared statement which said: "It is clear to me from this meeting, and others, that far from abating, unease and opposition among grassroots unionists to the present DUP/Sinn Fein government is increasing. The task now is to effectively channel and direct this opposition. This is a work in progress."

Former DUP councillor Walter Millar said there was a "lot of discontentment" within unionism, especially within the ranks of the DUP, and people believed they had been conned.

"Fears of splitting the unionist vote by a new party are unfounded because they won't be voting for the DUP or UUP again.

"Unless they have something that they can vote for which represents their interests they will not be voting again," he said

Limavady councillor Mr Cubitt argued that his former party is now in " complete disarray" because it had "told lies".

He added: "I now intend to let people know exactly what is happening. People think Ian Paisley is not hard enough and I forecast that if Dr Paisley lasts to Christmas as First Minister he will be lucky."

Mr Frazer said the meeting reflected discontentment with the " unacceptable" political situation. "Basically we have the IRA sitting in government. There certainly is a market for a new party."

DUP MP Gregory Campbell has said, however, said he was not concerned about the formation of any new anti-Agreement unionist party.

Belfast Telegraph


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