The Northern Secretary has accused the DUP of breathtaking hypocrisy over its decision to take up seats in the North's executive having contributed what he described as "not one jot" to its establishment. Peter Mandelson was speaking in the House of Commons as the Ulster Unionist party prepared to vote on his devolution proposals. He urged the party to back the deal, but one Ulster Unionist MP told RTÉ News that it offered no certainty on IRA decommissioning.
Mr Mandelson also said that dissidents would not be allowed to derail the peace process. He said that threats from whatever quarter would not be allowed to drive out the very real prospect of success that now exists. He also listed what Unionists could point to as achievements, including the return of self-government, the repeal of the Republic's territorial claim and Republican acceptance that decommissioning is essential.
In a separate development, the former Ulster Unionist leader, Lord Molyneaux, and the head of the Orange Order have urged the party to reject the Mitchell proposals. In a letter to the 800 delegates today, they said that they face a stark choice between terrorism and democracy. This letter is being sent to delegates to Saturday's meeting urging them to vote "no" to the plan to devolve power next week. It is being accompanied by a video depicting IRA atrocities. The signatories to this appeal are former party leader Lord Molyneaux, South Belfast MP, Martin Smyth, and the head of the Orange Order, Robert Saulters. The organisation has a 120-strong block on the Council, who are likely to oppose the deal. While Lord Molyneaux's opposition to the proposals comes as no surprise, it is part of a daily a drip feed of bad news for the party leadership.
Yesterday, a former close ally of Mr Trimble's, public relations consultant David Burnside, said that he was against the deal on offer, echoing the objections already voiced by John Taylor. Privately dissidents say that they can rely on the votes of over three hundred of the 858 delegates, and hope to sway another hundred by Saturday. The "Yes" is are predictably sceptical of this claim, but concedes that the margin could be tight. Increasingly the focus is on John Taylor, who has so far kept his council. If he is able to support the proposals, then victory is assured. However, the Strangford MP is sure to exact a price from David Trimble and the British government.
Representatives of 300 Protestant and Catholic clergy visited Stormont this morning to lobby members of the Northern Assembly and encourage them to work together to build a lasting peace. Several of the pro-Agreement parties said that they were greatly encouraged by the visit. Over 250 clergy have signed a statement calling on the politicians to make the peace deal work. They were criticised by anti-Agreement parties, but defended their decision to meet the parties, including the Ulster Unionists and Sinn Féin's Mitchel McLaughlin and Bairbre de Brun. SDLP Assemblyman Sean Farren said that the presence of the clergy was very significant. They represented a very broad section of the churches, particularly within the Protestant community, and, as such, brought a great message of support for David Trimble as he faced a very testing time.
The Church of Ireland Dean of Belfast, the Very Reverend Jack Shearer, said that now was the time for everybody to throw their weight behind the peace process. He said that everybody had misgivings when they looked back, but the important thing was that they had to look forward. The DUP's Sammy Wilson however was critical of the visit. He said that a parade of churchmen to Stormont represented the scraping of the immoral barrel by those who he claimed had abandoned the principles of the Gospel in order to promote the political goal of the Northern Ireland Office.