Trimble remark draws strong attack from within
A row erupted in the Ulster Unionist Party tonight after Mr David Trimble was accused of exacerbating internal divisions in the wake of the second act of IRA decommissioning.
UUP president the Rev Martin Smyth, who challenged Mr Trimble for the leadership of the party in March 2000, criticised the Northern Ireland First Minister for claiming the second act of decommissioning had made anti-Belfast Agreement unionists look "rather foolish".
In a tough talking speech to the Drumbo branch of the Lagan Valley Ulster Unionist Association, the South Belfast MP claimed the attitude displayed by Mr Trimble would make party unity "problematic".
"It was an extraordinary way to implement the new-found party unity which our recent council meeting was told was developing," said Mr Smyth.
"The leader may think that many of us, including his party's president, are fools.
"He is entitled to his opinion. However, those who will take a contrary opinion are also entitled to their view.
"Indeed, I think if one looks objectively at the implementation of the Agreement as a whole, the leader will find that the situation more resembles the quotation by the 1820s Prime Minister Lord Melbourne.
Mr Smyth also asked if it was not foolish to be still involved in implementing an accord which many unionists now believed was unrecognisable from the one they were originally sold.
In a reference to last year's general election, he continued: "Was it not foolish to go into an election promising to return with seven to 10 seats and on `the upper scale of that', only to return not even hitting the lower scale and with a mere 3,000 votes across three seats separating us from being the smallest party rather than clinging on as the biggest party by the skin of our teeth?
Mr Smyth continued to cast doubt on the sincerity of the IRA, claiming the second act of decommissioning was only carried out because it was "politically opportune".
"General (John) de Chastelain (the head of the decommissioning body) himself pointed out to the media that it was possible that the IRA could be playing him for a patsy," the Ulster Unionist president claimed.
"Is it foolish to wish that Unionism and our party not be involved in such a game?
"Is caution really foolish when, in the Irish Times on Tuesday morning, it was reported that at last week's joint Garda-Police Service of Northern Ireland conference, a senior PSNI officer presented information that the IRA was still procuring arms and military equipment and that it was still targeting police, government and political figures?
"I thought decommissioning was supposed to be part of a process of ending paramilitary activity."
Mr Smyth observed that the vast majority of unionists remained to be convinced of the validity of the decommissioning act announced last October and on Monday.
He claimed the party would be damaged by its reaction to the announcement.
He accused the British and Irish Governments of turning a blind eye to the reality of IRA activities.