is bursting at the seams with conspiracy theories,
theories and plotters. The latest rumour doing the
rounds of the Ulster Unionists' coffee circles is
that there are some within the movement who secretly
want the power-sharing Assembly permanently mothballed,
with a return to good, old-fashioned Direct Rule.
rumour-mongering surfaced earlier this month with
a claim that triple elections to Westminster, local
councils and a new Stormont Assembly could be set
for 5 May.
plan was supposedly part of a secret political blueprint
for progress favoured by some sections of the UUP
loyal to David Trimble.
date looks certain for the Commons and council electoral
battles, but sources close to Trimble say some in
the pro-Agreement camp favour an historic 'three-in-one'
it is also known that a significant number of existing
UUP MLAs are opposed to another Assembly election,
less than two years from the last bruising battle
in November 2003 when the Ulster Unionists lost
the mantel of 'top dog' to the rival DUP.
Sinn Fein and the IRA are still reeling politically
under the intense pressure heaped on them by the
two governments and the Bush administration in the
the DUP's political progress bandwagon now seemingly
motionless, the Trimble plan is being interpreted
as a 'last ditch' attempt to score some political
points on the Paisleyites.
with fears the UUP could face an electoral meltdown
on 5 May, a number of senior unionists also see
the emergence of the blueprint as a tactical movement
to scuttle any coup attempts against Trimble during
the centenary AGM of the party's ruling Ulster Unionist
Council on 5 March.
the blueprint, Trimble wants Northern Secretary
Paul Murphy to reinstate the suspended Assembly
and begin the six-week timeframe to elect the First
and Deputy First Ministers.
UUP boss also wants the power-sharing Executive
to be re-established and implement that part of
the Agreement which enables Sinn Fein to be booted
out of the peace process.
some in the Trimble camp also want fresh elections
to a third Assembly called on the same day as the
Commons and council elections. They are clearly
gambling strongly the North's middle ground and
democratic nationalists will support this move at
the expense of Sinn Fein and the DUP.
major gamble on electoral trends is that nationalists
who voted for Sinn Fein merely to end IRA activity
will return to the SDLP fold, and DUP voters will
become disillusioned with Paisleyite inactivity
and drift back to the Ulster Unionists.
senior UUP man close to the Trimble leadership said
he was "baffled" by both the timing and
content of the Trimble blueprint.
would Trimble launch this initiative now when it
is clear it is the Shinners, not the UUP which is
in a jam. Realistically, there is no way the DUP
will agree to a power-sharing Executive after the
recent exposes about Sinn Fein.
I can't see the SDLP wanting to enter any Executive.
In fact, the SDLP need to remodel themselves more
like the late John Turnley's constitutional republican
organisation, the now defunct Irish Independence
Party, to be sure of winning back votes from Sinn
suspect this Trimble blueprint has more to do with
crushing rumours of a planned centenary AGM coup
against the leadership than saving the peace process.
Ironically, the DUP needs David Trimble as UUP leader.
"They can blame them for whatever goes wrong
and stop any fragmentation in their own ranks by
their religious wing.
suspect, too, he also wants to avoid the 'imposed
solution' the two governments are talking about.
But the real issue for Sinn Fein is that it has
a massive credibility problem amongst unionists.
"Under Trimble's blueprint, the Northern parties
still have the upper hand. Sinn Fein will be excluded,
but if it can sort its own internal problems out
with the IRA, there's no reason why a truly democratic
Sinn Fein party can't rejoin the Executive process
at a later date."
it is also rumoured the 'Big Two' rival unionist
parties are vying for a pre-election stunt which
will have voters flocking to their ranks. The favourite
gimmick leading the field is for either the DUP
or UUP to announce its MLAs are not drawing their
Assembly salaries because of the political stalemate.
whichever unionist party unveils this plan first
would still expect to claim existing allowances
to pay research staff and keep constituency offices
It is expected the move would only be a short-term
strategy until after 5 May so that Assembly members
would not have to sacrifice too much pay.
senior Ulster Unionist who would support such an
electoral ploy said: "The fact that the Assembly
is not meeting, yet MLAs are being paid part of
their salaries is a real bone of contention amongst
many unionist voters.
the UUP got in first and decided not to take their
salaries, that could strike a cord with the electorate
and give us at least a fighting chance in the elections.
We've had our eye wiped by the DUP before.
when the DUP walked out of the Executive before,
they did it ahead of our party so that when we walked
out, we were accused of only following the Paisleyites."
for the Ulster Unionists, it was one of their own
MPs, Sylvia Hermon of North Down, who issued a question
mark over the future of the Assembly when she queried
its costs during the period of suspension since
remarks led to angry exchanges between staunch devolutionists
and Trimble supporters at both a party executive
meeting and an UUP Assembly group meeting at Stormont.
spite of the apparent splits between the UUP's devolutionist
and integrationist wings over the future of Stormont,
the party has been trying to claw back some of the
ground it lost to the DUP in the 2003 Assembly battle
and last year's European poll.
party is set to unveil the latest in a series of
six mailshot leaflets targeting 10 of the North's
18 constituencies which the UUP claims it can either
hold or take back.
latest leaflet to hit the streets is entitled 'Tough
on Crime: Tough on the proceeds of Crime'.
republicans for a series of criminal raids including
the £1 million of goods taken from Makro,
the £2 million in fags stolen from a Belfast
warehouse, as well as the £26.5 million Northern
Bank heist, the hard-hitting leaflet also features
a photo of Sinn Fein boss Gerry Adams with half
his face covered by a balaclava.
latest UUP leaflet is similar to a poster campaign
which it ran in the mid 1980s featuring a photographic
montage of Adams, the then SF publicity director
Danny Morrison, with a hooded and armed terrorist
key target seat for the UUP is East Belfast, currently
held for the past 26 years by DUP deputy leader
Peter Robinson where the Ulster Unionists claim
only 1,900 votes exists between the rival parties.
grassroots favourite to succeed Trimble as party
leader - Reg Empey - is the UUP runner in the constituency.
UUP presently holds five Commons seats, and ironically
the plan to double this to 10 echoes the DUP's electoral
hopes of holding and winning 10 Westminster seats.
the meantime, the UUP hopes its forthcoming centenary
celebrations in early March will boost the party's
coffers. Sources claim the cash-strapped party will
need £300,000 to fight the two elections on
is hoped a centenary dinner organised by English
UUP supporters at a plush London venue with seats
costing £500 each will bring in between £20,000
and £30,000 for the party.
the party has talked privately at going head-to-head
with Sinn Fein in terms of the numbers game over
the March weekend centenary celebrations.
have gone out to fill as many of the expected 1,000
seats at Belfast's St Anne's Church of Ireland Cathedral
for the UUP's Thanksgiving Service on Sunday 6 March.
members have been told this is the same date Sinn
Fein will hold a major event in Dublin, also to
mark the centenary of its formation.