DUP membership divided over power sharing
Almost two fifths of Democratic Unionists would share power with Sinn Fein if IRA criminality ended and there was total disarmament, an opinion poll claimed today.
A survey of 100 delegates attending yesterday's DUP annual conference in Belfast revealed 39% of those questioned believed that, in the right context, the party should share power with Sinn Fein and other parties.
However, 37% felt that even if the IRA ended its criminality and destroyed every weapon, direct rule by British ministers in Northern Ireland would be preferable while 24% had no opinion.
As the party prepared for a new round of talks tomorrow organised by the British and Irish governments to revive devolution, the opinion poll for the Sunday Times showed DUP delegates remained highly sceptical about claims last September that the IRA had destroyed its stockpile of weapons.
The results showed 93% did not believe decommissioning had been completed while only 4% were of the opinion that it had.
During yesterday's conference DUP leader the Reverend Ian Paisley claimed last September's final act of decommissioning was a lie.
The North Antrim MP said claims that IRA decommissioning had been completed were "a falsehood so blatant even Lord Haw Haw would have blushed to utter it".
Doubts have surfaced since Wednesday that the IRA has totally disarmed, after reports from General John de Chastelain's disarmament body and the ceasefire watchdog, the Independent Monitoring Commission, revealed they had been told by security sources that members of the Provisionals had retained a range of weapons, including hand guns.
The opinion poll also revealed that 17% of delegates surveyed felt the time was right for the DUP to enter into face-to-face political talks with Sinn Fein but the vast majority, 82%, were opposed to the suggestion.
96% believed the DUP should share power with the Mark Durkan's nationalist SDLP if that was an option.
Support for the Reverend Ian Paisley as DUP leader remained firm, with 85% feeling he should remain at the helm of the party and 11% believing he should retire.
In the event of the North Antrim MP standing down, DUP deputy leader Peter Robinson attracted the most support from a list of potential candidates. The East Belfast MP had 37% support, compared to 25% for the North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds and (% for the party's MEP Jim Allister.
MP Gregory Campbell and South Antrim MP the Reverend William McCrea had 2%, Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson had 1% but almost a quarter of the delegates, 24%, did not state a preference.