21 May 2006

I understand Reg's decision says Trimble

Sunday Life

*I believe the principle is that 'birds of a feather flock together'

By Alan Murray
21 May 2006

Former Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble has backed his successor's controversial decision to bring the PUP's David Ervine into his party's Assembly grouping.

Lord Trimble said he was fully briefed about Sir Reg Empey's decision last weekend and said he believed it was the right thing to do.

"I understand and support his decision," he said yesterday.

"I wouldn't have been First Minister without the votes of the PUP and the way Peter Hain has had the Standing Orders written for this Assembly left Reg with very little room to manoeuvre."

Sir Reg's decision came under fire from DUP leader Ian Paisley, who claimed that by linking with the PUP, which has ties to the UVF, the UUP were "allying" themselves with terrorism.

Perhaps even more worrying for Sir Reg, the Ulster Unionist's sole MP, Lady Sylvia Hermon spoke in the House of Commons of her "deep distress" over the move.

But Lord Trimble said the UUP had had an understanding with the Progressive Unionists for more than a decade and Sir Reg's decision was in keeping with that.

"We've had an understanding, indeed a coalition, with David Ervine, Billy Hutchinson and Hugh Smyth in the City Hall in Belfast for 13 to 15 years for the very same reason, to maximise the Unionist vote and bring advantage to the Unionist community.

"It's been of huge political benefit to us there and we have benefited from it in the Assembly."

He added: "I was fully briefed about the decision last weekend, as I believe were all senior members of the party, and I fully understand and support Reg's decision", he said.

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