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Flash: Donaldson resigns from UUP

Unionist hardliner Jeffrey Donaldson tonight quit the Ulster
Unionist Party.

Fellow Assembly members Arlene Foster and Norah Beare are also
resigning. The move reduces the size of the UUP's potential
Assembly team from 27 to 24.

Mr Donaldson said: "We have made the decision that we are
resigning from the Ulster Unionist Party and will be
considering our options."

One could involve him joining Ian Paisley's hardline
Democratic Unionist Party.

He confirmed: "I have been offered a position on the DUP's
negotiating team to participate in the negotiations taking
place in January and will be taking a decision after the

"This is a sad day for me. I have been a member of the Ulster
Unionist Party ever since I was a teenager.

"However I have come to the conclusion that it is not the
party I joined and it has abandoned the principles I believe

Mr Donaldson's resignation marks the end of a damaging
five-year internal political battle over support for the 1998
Good Friday Agreement.

Divisions within the party hindered the party's campaign in
last month's election to the Belfast Assembly, which saw the
rival DUP overtake it with 30 seats.

The move could lead to a realignment within unionism, with a
clear distinction being drawn between a more pro-Agreement UUP
and the anti-agreement DUP.

All parties are due to participate in a review of the
Agreement next month, in which the DUP is attempting to
renegotiate the troubled peace deal.

Mr Donaldson has been the MP for the Lagan Valley constituency
since 1997.

Arlene Foster is a lawyer and an honorary secretary of the
Ulster Unionist Party and close ally of Mr Donaldson's. Norah
Beare has worked in the MP's constituency office and was
elected alongside him in Lagan Valley during last month`s
Assembly Elections.

The reduction in size of Mr Trimble's Assembly Group gives the
party the same Assembly strength as Sinn Fein, potentially
affecting the share-out of positions in Assembly committees
and the suspended Northern Executive.

DUP leader Ian Paisley welcomed the decision.

"This is without doubt a momentous decision that will deal a
hammer blow to the Ulster Unionist Party leaving them little
more than a rump of Unionists badly out of touch with the
views and aspirations of the majority of the unionist
community," he said.

"These three MLA's have recognised that their mandate to work
for a new and better agreement for Northern Ireland cannot be
achieved from within the confines of the UUP. The Trimble-led
Ulster Unionists are intent on reviving and resuscitating the
old, failed Belfast Agreement, an agreement which almost 2 out
of 3 unionist voters resoundingly rejected last month," he

"It is evident that the leadership of the UUP remains wedded
to a process that has done nothing but damage the Union and
unionism. Unionists are coming together to seek to remedy the
failure and deceit visited upon them by David Trimble," he

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