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.
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.
latest batch of conspiracy theories centre around
the failure of UUP leader David Trimbles 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
how do you explain the Lagan Valley associations
strategy in dumping the seemingly red-hot
certainty, Daphne Trimble, in favour of an unknown
businessman who only joined the party a few months
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 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.
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 husbands leadership.
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 leaders wife the only candidate
who had at least a fighting chance of unseating
even if Daphne didnt 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 Kilfedders 14,000
majority in 1983 to around 5,000 in 1992.
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.
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.
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
rumour-mongering machine is churning out allegations
of infiltration of the association by former Tory
Party sympathisers, MI5 activists, and even a closet
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 Donaldsons dissident
supporters were active in the anti-Agreement Union
First pressure group.
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.
primary aims were to bring Donaldson to heel
within the UUP, and depose the Lagan Valley associations
perceived moderate leadership with a more hardline
Right-wing pro-Agreement leadership loyal to Trimble
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.
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 Donaldsons defection
did not put an end to the conspiracy theories.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 Mays council and expected
General Election is to dump Trimble in favour of
Sir Reg Empey.
UUPs 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.
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.
well as that, the high-profile Lagan Valley Alliance
Party MLA Seamus Close has also been nominated to
contest the seat.
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. Its a case of better the
floor being wiped by an unknown newcomer than the
party leaders wife!
the painful truth in Lagan Valley, once the safest
UUP seat in the North, is that Daphnes demise
will condemn the constituency to a generation of
DUP rule. Donaldson will be MP for as long as he
wants the seat.
Lagan Valley may well be a Dail constituency in
a European-imposed United Ireland before the Ulster
Unionists have a pups chance of regaining
what was once their jewel in the unionist crown
under former party leader Jim Molyneaux.
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
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.
the November 2003 Assembly elections, the UUP was
within a few thousand votes of Robinson. If the
UUPs Reg Empey could lift the East,
it would guarantee him the party leadership.
Daphnes 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.
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.