The Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble, has launched what he described as "a short but momentous campaign" to win the support of his party for the proposals in George Mitchell's review of the Good Friday Agreement. The deal will pave the way for a power-sharing executive in the North. The party's 860-member council is to meet tomorrow week to decide whether to support the proposition. At a meeting today, the Ulster Unionist party executive supported Mr Trimble's plan to call a meeting of the council. Speaking before the meeting, Mr Trimble said that he confidently expects the recommendations made by Senator George Mitchell on the way forward in the peace process to produce decommissioning and devolution. Mr Trimble also made it clear that he as party leader would be recommending the Mitchell proposals to the Council. The Council's decision on Senator Mitchell's report is seen as vital to the peace process, as the deal could collapse if a majority of the strong Council vote against it.
Opposition in Unionist ranks remains, however. Ulster Unionist Assembly member, Derek Hussey, today asked Mr Trimble to relieve him of his position as deputy whip in the assembly. Mr Hussey, who represents West Tyrone, said the current proposals presented him with a dilemma. Six Unionist MPs and a number of Unionist Assemblymen remain against the deal. Mr Trimble and a party dissident, David Brewster, issued a joint statement today seeking to heal a public row between them. Mr Brewster had interrupted a news conference objecting to a press release, which suggested the party officers backed the terms of the Mitchell deal.
Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson has offered help Mr Trimble sell the deal by speaking to grass-root unionists at local association meetings if asked. But party insiders said they did not want Mr Mandelson involved. The Church of Ireland Primate, Archbishop Robin Eames has called on Mr Trimble's party to support their leader. US President, Bill Clinton, also urged the Ulster Unionist Council to back the Mitchell recommendations. Mr Clinton was speaking after meeting the Taoiseach on the margins of the OSCE summit in Turkey. Mr Clinton also described as "extremely encouraging" the IRA statement that it would appoint a representative to liase with the panel on decommissioning. Earlier, he said that the North's political parties had taken a powerful step towards lasting peace.
Sinn Féin's Mitchel McLaughlin said his party was convinced that David Trimble was making a genuine attempt to advocate this agreement and that there was a very, very substantial constituency within Unionism that will respond to positive leadership. He added, "we would not have put ourselves through the trauma we have had if we did not believe ultimately that the unionist community would come along with us in this project. We want to work with them, not against them, and we have made that clear over and over again." Mr McLaughlin said Mr Trimble faces significant difficulties, adding that Sinn Féin has problems as well. He said, "we each are committed to resolve those difficulties and bring our constituency to a positive conclusion on this. We have also accepted responsibility not to create difficulties for each other." He added, "there are no hidden agreements, there are not hidden details. What you have is a very clear understanding, which, I think will remove the potential for misinterpretation or division in the future." He said Sinn Fein are prepared to take a chance on the good faith of the British government, and the Unionist Party.
Mitchel McLaughlin has also said reports of remarks allegedly made by one of his colleagues, Martin Ferris, were false. Mr Ferris was reported to have said the British government would not exclude his party from office if the IRA failed to decommission. Mr McLaughlin said the report had appeared on an unofficial Internet bulletin, and that Mr Ferris had said no such thing.