Donaldson Slapped Down for Attack on Trimble
The News Letter
Dec 2 2003

THE Donaldson factor raised its head but was quickly put down at the first meeting of Ulster Unionist MLAs at Stormont yesterday morning.

The incident lasted only a matter of minutes in a two-hour meeting, which was otherwise focused on the party's post-election operation and strategy, and variously described as ''cordial'' and ''amicable'', apart from the Donaldson interlude.

Mr Donaldson repeated his call for UUP leader David Trimble to resign but was immediately met with a statement by Strangford MLA David McNarry that he had the requisite signatures to call a UUC meeting to propose a motion of no confidence in him if he did not desist from divisive behaviour.

The party leadership moved the discussion on quickly, and Mr Donaldson said no more until he addressed the media afterwards.

Then he repeated his belief the only way forward for his party was for Mr Trimble to step down.

He refused to speculate on whether he would bid to become leader of the party.

"There isn't a vacancy at the moment and a vacancy doesn't arise naturally until the Ulster Unionist Council in March. That's why I have chosen my words carefully and said that in the interests of rebuilding the party before the next election that the party leader should step aside.''

Mr Trimble refused to comment on the resignation call. "I'm sorry if Jeffrey said that here because that doesn't reflect the group meeting we had. We were there for the best part of two hours, and it was an amicable discussion,'' he said.

He declined to comment on whether an extraordinary meeting of the Ulster Unionist Council would be called to force Mr Donaldson out of the party.

"One of the things I did say to the group, and I think it was appropriate when we had a group of 10 new members in it, was that I underlined how important it was that we speak frankly within the group, but we only do it within the group.''

The Ulster Unionist leader said his focus would be on challenging the DUP on its proposals to end the deadlock in the political institutions.

"This assembly here is empty, it is closed and it will not be open until some proposals come forward and it is not good enough for the DUP to go on pretending they are in opposition for the next year or so, because if they do then we won't be here.''

Newly-elected MLA David Burnside described the situation at Stormont as a ''farce''.

"Stormont either works or it should be closed down, in my opinion," he said.

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