Irish Republican News · November 28, 2003
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]

Paisley triumph threatens Agreement

As the dust begins to settle following Wednesday's Assembly election, Republican joy at Sinn Fein's success has been tempered by near-misses in many areas and the deep crisis now facing the peace process.

With its traditional cavalcades in unlikely areas such as East Derry and North Antrim, Sinn Fein is tonight celebrating its increased representation in the 108-seat Stormont Assembly.

The party went from 18 to 24 seats, swapping positions with the once-mighty SDLP, who dropped from 24 to 18 seats. In terms of first preference votes, the party even outstripped the Ulster Unionist Party by a narrow margin, and has now laid claim to the position of Deputy First Minister in any new Executive.

But that appears an unlikely goal in the short term. The success of Ian Paisley's DUP, seizing a majority of unionist seats in the new Assembly, amay have created the deepest crisis in the peace process since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement was signed.

The assembly has already been suspended for more than a year ago and the parties went into the election against the background of a deadlocked political process.

At the last election the UUP was the biggest party. Despite the suspension of the Assembly, negotiations continued on the implementation of the Agreement.

But the DUP has demanded the Good Friday Agreement be renegotiated afresh while vowing that there will be no negotiations with ``Sinn Fein/IRA''.

Nigel Dodds of the DUP said his party would be holding talks with the government over the weekend.

``The DUP, in terms of percentage votes and the overall number of votes, now speaks for the unionist community and now speaks for more people in the province than any other party,'' he said.

Meanwhile, the Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble said the Democratic Unionists had ``sold the people a false bill of goods''.

``They said there was some other agreement out there that they could produce and which wouldn't have any of the awkward bits in it.''

He added: ``The DUP can't deliver and that will become clear and it will become clear very quickly.''

He held out the possibility of another election in the near future. If an executive is not formed, the Good Friday Agreement states that another election should be held in six weeks until a workable government is found. However, the Britosh government has previously evaded this requirement by suspending the Assembly, and Direct Rule from London continues to be Britain's favoured strategy for dealing with stalemate in the North.

Meanwhile, UUP rebel Mr Jeffrey Donaldson has dismissed accusations that he was out-of-step with his own party by pointing to his impressive personal poll of over 14,000 -- almost three quotas. He said: ``If I am getting it so wrong, why is the electorate supporting me? They want change.''

Asked if he would challenge Mr Trimble for the leadership of UUP, he said: ``It is time for change and if a vacancy arises I will consider putting my name forward''.

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams said it had been a good election for his party.

``There is a crisis within unionism that will need some patience for the rest of us to show in the time ahead,'' he said.

``We will look to Mr Blair and Mr Ahern to reiterate their commitment to fully implementing the agreement.''

Pointing out that over two thirds of the electorate had vote for pro-Agreement candidates, Mr Adams said: ``We asked people to endorse the risks we are taking for the process. The message is very, very straight forward for everyone, the vast bulk of people want this process to work.

``All of the main parties, indeed some of the smaller parties, recognise that. So let's consolidate whatever happens as a result of this election and move forward.''

Asked to comment on the increase in DUP strength as a result of this election, he: ``I think the dialogue which we initiated with unionism has to continue - it is key.

``I think the message for the DUP is, however well they do, however badly they do, all the parties' supporters want the peace process to work.

``All the parties' supporters want an agenda which is moving forward and there can be no renegotiation of the Good Friday Agreement.''

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© 2003 Irish Republican News