By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — The critical Ulster Unionist Council vote on whether to stay in the Northern Ireland Executive with Sinn Fein will be held Oct. 28 in Belfast. If just 30 more delegates join the "No" camp, it could force the party’s withdrawal from the power-sharing body.
Most observers believe that if the vote were taken now, the UUP leader, David Trimble, would fail to hold his party together. The outcome may ultimately depend on how strongly he defends the Good Friday agreement over the next 10 days.
If Trimble loses the vote on Oct. 28, the party will leave the Executive and it will collapse, possibly bringing the agreement down with it. It would also open the way for hardliners to take over the party leadership.
The Ulster Unionist review group, set up to examine whether progress has been made on paramilitary arms decommissioning, issued a statement on Friday saying Sinn Fein could no longer continue to "reap the benefits of ministerial office" without IRA disarmament.
"It is unfortunate once again that we have to report that progress in the Belfast Agreement is being hindered by the failure of all paramilitaries to disarm," it said.
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The group also said that "without any credible and verifiable decommissioning, it is crucial that any proposed reforms to the RUC should be immediately withdrawn."
The last time the 860-member UUC met, in May, it decided by 53 percent to 47 to back Trimble’s decision to lead the party back into the power-sharing Executive. Since then, support for the agreement has leeched away and the party’s defeat in the South Antrim by-election to the DUP has had a deeply unsettling effect.
On decommissioning, Sinn Fein’s North Belfast assemblyman, Gerry Kelly, said he believed there will be a second examination of IRA weapons dumps by the two independent inspectors and it would have already taken place if the British government had honored its "commitments on policing and demilitarization."
"I remain confident that the IRA will honor its commitments," Kelly said. "The history of the process shows that it will do so on its own timeframe — not in response to deadlines from others who have failed to keep their commitments."
In June, the IRA said the first inspections had taken place as a "confidence-building measure in the peace process." The IRA also said it had renewed contact with the body set up to oversee decommissioning in Northern Ireland.