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Another Crisis for Trimble?

Dr. John Coulter maintains the UUP has made a monumental cock-up in not selecting Daphne Trimble as the Lagan Valley Westminster candidate. He believes it will signal the start of yet another major leadership crisis for her husband and party boss, David.

Dr. John Coulter • 29 November 2004

The ‘Dumping Daphne Debacle’ which Lagan Valley Ulster Unionist Association inflicted upon itself recently has sparked enough conspiracy theories to make the 17th century rebel Guy Fawkes proud to have been in the UUP.

Treason, plotting, secret groups and back-stabbing have been key words in the UUP vocabulary since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in April 1998.

The latest batch of conspiracy theories centre around the failure of UUP leader David Trimble’s wife, Daphne, to win, what any political gambler initially viewed as an odds-on bet, the Westminster nomination against sitting MP and Ulster Unionist defector Jeffrey Donaldson.

Precisely how do you explain the Lagan Valley association’s ‘strategy’ in dumping the seemingly red-hot certainty, Daphne Trimble, in favour of an unknown businessman who only joined the party a few months ago?

Beaten by a margin of two to one, the hurricane of change roaring through Lagan Valley has signaled the start of a fresh onslaught on the Trimble leadership – one that is expected to come to a head by March 2005.

March 2005 is a key time period. Next year sees celebrations to commemorate the centenary of the founding of the Ulster Unionist Council, the UUP governing body. The month has also been earmarked when visible proof of IRA decommissioning will be produced, and the green light given to the kick-starting of the power-sharing Stormont Executive with the DUP and Sinn Fein holding the leading roles.

Even the most enthusiastic of the Trimbleista spin doctors was admitting the rejection of Daphne has confirmed Ulster Unionism is now in the twilight months of her husband’s leadership.

In spite of well-staged photocalls of a smiling David Trimble with the man who beat Daphne, they cannot hide the fact there was a deliberate strategy to dump the leader’s wife – the only candidate who had at least a fighting chance of unseating Donaldson.

And even if Daphne didn’t manage to unseat Donaldson, she could at least have severely slashed his handsome Commons majority, in much the same way as the now almost defunct Northern Ireland Tories reduced the late North Down MP Sir James Kilfedder’s 14,000 majority in 1983 to around 5,000 in 1992.

The 93 delegates who voted against Daphne Trimble have to face reality that one of the major consequences of their actions has been to light the fuse for what will prove to be the most concerted leadership coup attempt ever on her husband.

Even before the notorious selection meeting in the Dunmurry hotel, the constituency association was rife will allegations of political ‘planting’. Fingers were pointed at the Trimbleistas’ camp that they were trying to copy the DUP by creating a husband-and-wife dynasty with Daphne in Lagan Valley and husband David in neighbouring Upper Bann.

But amongst some traditional Ulster-born UUP supporters in Lagan Valley, there has developed a deep suspicion of what has been termed the ‘English Import Syndrome’. Fingers are being pointed at UUP branches which contain members or supporters with non-Ulster accents.

The rumour-mongering machine is churning out allegations of infiltration of the association by former Tory Party sympathisers, MI5 activists, and even a closet communist!

Lagan Valley Ulster Unionists are no strangers to cliques and secret meetings. It has been commonplace since the Belfast Agreement. Before jumping ship to the DUP, many of Jeffrey Donaldson’s dissident supporters were active in the anti-Agreement Union First pressure group.

Those loyal to Trimble teamed up with the pro-Agreement Re:Union movement. But the most dangerous group was a Right-wing clique dubbed The Cabal because of the nature of its masonic-style operations. Membership of The Cabal was ‘by invitation only’.

Its primary aims were to bring Donaldson ‘to heel’ within the UUP, and depose the Lagan Valley association’s perceived moderate leadership with a more hardline Right-wing pro-Agreement leadership loyal to Trimble himself.

The Cabal initiated a series of meetings with leading Ulster Unionists known as the ‘24 Club’ because no more than two dozen men would be selected to attend these meetings in a Lagan Valley hotel.

The combined activities of The Cabal and the 24 Club set in motion a political chain reaction which resulted in Donaldson and many of his supporters quitting the UUP for the DUP. But Donaldson’s defection did not put an end to the conspiracy theories.

Allegations have persisted that Donaldson left behind a Trojan Horse-style group of sympathisers to ‘keep an eye’ on developments within the Lagan Valley Unionist Association. Likewise, allegations have been made that The Cabal has been responsible for ‘planting’ spies within the DUP during a major recruitment drive by the Paisley party.

There have also been allegations that a Far Right wing clique within the UUP wants to reform the defunct pressure group, the Ulster Monday Club. In the 1980s, the UMC was one of the most influential pressure groups within the UUP, boasting a membership of around 40 activists across many constituency associations and numbering at least four UUP MPs in its ranks.

However, the UMC folded amid allegations concerning the National Monday Club, based in London, that its English counterpart had been infiltrated by Right-wing extremists. It must be emphasised the UMC never faced any such allegations.
However, Trimble has survived leadership coups in the past since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. But then, all the plotting was hatched by anti-Agreement dissidents loyal to the so-called Gang of Three – Donaldson, Rev Martin Smyth of South Belfast, and David Burnside of South Antrim.

But with Donaldson jumping ship to the DUP, taking with him a number of key dissident activists, the anti-Agreement steam roller in the UUC has all but run out of puff.

This time, the leadership coup will be staged by those who would be classified as pro-Agreement and are feeling this icy wind of change from their grassroots. They believe the only way the party can avoid an electoral meltdown in May’s council and expected General Election is to dump Trimble in favour of Sir Reg Empey.

The UUP’s ‘strategy’ to wrench Lagan Valley from Donaldson is simple (although many would view it as merely simple-minded). Take a newcomer to the party and pitch him against the sitting MP who has held the seat since 1997.

This newcomer will be able to topple Donaldson, in spite of the latter topping the poll in the November 2003 Assembly election with 14,000 first preference votes, and in the 2001 General Election, Donaldson received almost 26,000 votes – the highest figure for all Northern Ireland constituencies.

As well as that, the high-profile Lagan Valley Alliance Party MLA Seamus Close has also been nominated to contest the seat.

There has also been the equally daft suggestion that Lagan Valley unionists selected a newcomer to fight Jeffrey because they privately know Donaldson will wipe the political floor with whatever candidate the UUP selects. It’s a case of – better the floor being wiped by an unknown newcomer than the party leader’s wife!

However, the painful truth in Lagan Valley, once the safest UUP seat in the North, is that Daphne’s demise will condemn the constituency to a generation of DUP rule. Donaldson will be MP for as long as he wants the seat.

Indeed, Lagan Valley may well be a Dail constituency in a European-imposed United Ireland before the Ulster Unionists have a pup’s chance of regaining what was once their jewel in the unionist crown under former party leader Jim Molyneaux.

With not having to worry about another Donaldson/Trimble showdown, Jeffrey can concentrate fully on his campaign to take control of the prestigious Lisburn City Council – the final bastion of UUP power in Lagan Valley.

The UUP will have to find another cockpit constituency in which to promote its battle for the heart and soul of Unionism. Eyes are already heavily focused on East Belfast, the political turf of DUP deputy boss Peter Robinson.

After the November 2003 Assembly elections, the UUP was within a few thousand votes of Robinson. If the UUP’s Reg Empey could lift ‘the East’, it would guarantee him the party leadership.

But Daphne’s defeat has further fuelled speculation the UUP will be left with two Commons seats in May – her husband in Upper Bann and Sylvia Hermon in North Down.

As for David Burnside in South Antrim, given what happened to dissident William Ross in East Derry in 2001, maybe the time has come for the PR guru to follow the lead of his pal Jeffrey and jump ship to the DUP as the only way to remain in the Commons.




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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

2 December 2004

Other Articles From This Issue:

Questions - and Doubts - Remain
Tommy Gorman

Another Crisis for Trimble?
Dr John Coulter

No Gangster More Cruel
Anthony McIntyre

Love Your Enemy More Than Your Friend
Elana Golden

Mick Hall

The Biggest Mistake They Could Have Made
Áine Fox

Danilo Anderson and Condoleeza Rice
Toni Solo

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Anthony McIntyre

The Cost of the Failure of Politicians is Immeasurable
Mick Hall

A Provisional Pushover
Tom Luby

Seeing What You Want to See
Eoin O Broin

Puritan Death Ethic: Ronan Bennett’s Havoc, in its third year
Seaghán Ó Murchú

Mairtin O Cadhain
Liam O Ruairc

Please Help Put A Smile On The Faces Of Palestine’s Poorest Children This Christmas
Margaret Quinn



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