23 April 2005

Islamic Republic News Agency

Elections expected to further polarize Northern Ireland politics

London, April 23, IRNA
UK-Elections-N. Ireland

Britain's general election is likely to result in an even greater polarization in Northern Ireland between the pro-British Democratic Unionists (DUP) and the Irish republican party Sinn Fein.

According to News Letter, a Belfast daily, the more moderate Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) could lose a further three of its 4 remaining parliamentary seats, including that of its leader, David Trimble, who was Northern Ireland's previous First Minister.

Using the odds of local bookmaker, Barney Eastwood, it predicted that the DUP would increase the number of its MPs from 5 to 7 to confirm its position as the largest party.

Sinn Fein would also increase its lead as the largest nationalist party, up from 4 to 6 seats, despite recent criticism about the alleged involvement by the IRA in a massive Pnds 26.5 million (Dlrs 50 m) robbery in Belfast last December.

A major realignment in redrawing Northern Ireland's political map started at the 2001 general election following failure to fully implement the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement. Previously it was dominated by the UUP and more moderate nationalist SDLP.

Subsequent disputes led to the suspension over two years ago of Belfast's devolved assembly and with it the power-sharing executive.

Attempts since to find a compromise failed last December and were followed by the IRA being blamed for the UK's biggest bank robbery.

Despite the predictions of gains by Sinn Fein, which has political links with the IRA, its leader Gerry Adams suggested the wave of publicity, blaming the paramilitary group for the robbery and its alleged involvement in a recent murder, could hit his party at the elections.

"I have no doubt the exploitation, particularly of the killing of Robert McCartney, by our opponents will have a negative effect," Adams was quoted saying by Reuters on Friday. "That's what it's aimed to do," he said.

At the opening of the election campaign, Adams made a direct appeal to the IRA to take a historic decision and fully embrace political and peaceful means of achieving its objectives for a reunited Ireland.

The position of the DUP, which originally opposed the peace agreement, has been to call for Sinn Fein's exclusion from power- sharing arrangements until the IRA disbands.

With both the DUP and Sinn Fein at the extreme ends of the political spectrum in Northern Ireland, expected to make further gains, questions remain about the future survival of an inclusive peace process.

HC/2323/1412

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