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21 August 2003 Edition

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Unionists under pressure

BY LAURA FRIEL

David Trimble is likely to face another leadership challenge next month. According to media reports, 60 signatories necessary to call a meeting of the Ulster Unionist Council have already been presented to the party's headquarters in Belfast.

The meeting of 860 delegates is set to challenge any decision to discipline the three UUP MPs, who are refusing to recognise the party's parliamentary whip as part of an ongoing challenge to Trimble's leadership.

A vote endorsing no disciplinary action would be a serious blow to Trimble's authority but his supporters within the party insist that it would not precipitate his resignation.

Jeffrey Donaldson, David Burnside and Martin Smyth are currently facing expulsion from the UUP. Trimble has already made his position clear, describing the three recalcitrant MPs as effectively already resigned.

The decision to press ahead with yet another showdown suggests that efforts by senior members of the party to bridge the gap between Trimble and malcontents have already floundered.

Meanwhile, journalist and author Susan McKay has accused unionism's political leadership of being "very short on ideas for governing in peacetime". McKay accused unionist politicians of perpetuating a sense of fear and terror in the Protestant population about the IRA while in privately admitting that the IRA is not a threat.

McKay said unionist politicians deliberately frightened their constituents into being loyal. The heightening of irrational fears and the fiery rhetoric adopted by some politicians directly fed unionist violence. The relationship between the extreme and the mainstream is crucial to understanding contemporary unionism, said McKay.

But the unionist perception must be understood not only in terms of what is said but also in terms of what is not. As a journalist, McKay said she spent a lot of time reporting things people claim haven't happened.

Denials, lies and silence about unionist violence within the unionist community have had a damaging and distorting effect on unionist perception and decision-making process, she suggested.

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