By Anne Cadwallader
ENNISKILLEN, Co. Fermanagh — Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble emerged unscathed from his party conference over the weekend, concentrating fire on critics within his own party in his keynote speech and appealing to them to attack republicans instead.
In a carefully balanced speech that referred to the need for arms decommissioning to "accompany" the setting up of the power-sharing executive proposed in the Good Friday peace agreement, Trimble said there was no alternative. The UUP leader promised he would not give up and scorned predictions he was about to resign.
He received a rather short 45-second ovation at the end of his speech, during which, some members, including MP Willie Ross, did not get to their feet.
"We are all tired of the daily chorus of disagreement between senior colleagues," Trimble said in a clear reference to his own deputy leader, John Taylor, and MPs Ross, William Thompson and others.
But Trimble strongly reiterated his "No guns, no government" policy, saying predictions that this would collapse under pressure from the British government had been confounded by the UUP’s capacity to make decisions and stand by them.
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There is little point in getting "bogged down" in the details of a possible choreography to set up a power-sharing executive until Sinn Fein has made a "clear commitment by republicans to credible decommissioning," he said.
The Good Friday agreement has resolved the North’s constitutional position and gives unionists an opportunity to "claw back" power, Trimble said.
Calling the republican movement "a force for evil," Trimble nevertheless said unionists would, inescapably, be forced to deal with Sinn Fein while it has "substantial electoral support."
A leading anti-agreement unionist, David Brewster, was one of the few dissidents called to the podium in a carefully stage-managed conference where criticism of Trimble did not materialize as expected.
Brewster, a member of the anti-agreement Union First group, refrained from making a direct attack on the leadership but warned that any deviation from official party policy would be opposed.
Pointing to Trimble, he said: "Nobody has done more than that man to try to
make this agreement work."
Trimble had withstood vilification from some unionists for his efforts, he said, but Lord Salisbury had been "a greater unionist that you or I" and had recognized when it was time to abandon a mistaken policy.
"I think the day will soon come when we have to say, ‘This is a dead agreement; it has ceased to exist,’ " he said.
Pointing to media reports that said that after the conference Trimble might broker a deal to allow Sinn Féin into government before decommissioning, Brewster said he did not believe the leadership would treat its membership with such contempt.
He warned that he and others "wouldn’t tolerate it for one minute."
The party chairman, Lord Rogan of Lower Iveagh, said that unionism had defeated nationalism in negotiations leading up to the agreement. Nationalism had been beaten and now accepted that Northern Ireland was a legitimate state, he said.
Sinn Féin’s failure to deliver on IRA decommissioning had shown it to be a "nasty, hate-driven sectarian organization," he said. The SDLP should now enter a power-sharing executive with the UUP, he added.
In a debate over the Patten Report on the future of policing, there was
universal rejection of recommendations to change the name, badge and emblem of
"The battle over how society here is to be policed is a test of our Britishness. I call on each of you to work, to help, not hinder, and most of all to hold your nerve until we’ve won," MP Ken Maginnis said.