British Prime Minister Tony Blair yesterday finally confirmed the date for the British general election, scheduled to take place on May 5, the anniversary of the death of hunger striker Bobby Sands.
In the North, eighteen bitterly-fought Westminster seats will be decided on the same day as the local council elections.
The development has been welcomed by all of the North’s political parties, who have already been campaigning for several weeks.
Sinn Féin Westminster Candidate and Party Secretary Mitchel McLaughlin admitted as much, desribing the announcement as “the worst kept secret”.
“We look forward to putting our record and our policies in front of the people and are confident that we will return both more MP’s and councillors across the North in these elections”.
“However we have decided as a mark of respect to the Pope not to erect any election posters until after the funeral on Friday and are calling on other parties to do likewise”.
SDLP leader Mark Durkan, facign a battle with Sinn Féin’s General Secretary Mitchel McLaughlin for the Foyle [Derry] constituency, called on voters to support his party.
“The SDLP is looking forward to this double election.
“We are the only party working to end direct rule and return to the Good Friday Agreement,” he said.
“All Sinn Féin have delivered with their mandate is a bad deal with the DUP, a bad deal with the IRA and a bad deal with the governments,” Mr Durkan said.
North Belfast MP and DUP spokesperson Nigel Dodds argued that the forthcoming election will be an opportunity for people to reward his party for putting Sinn Féin “on the back foot”.
“When unionists see the choice between vibrant confident unionism which has held the line, engaged in constructive negotiations, put Sinn Féin/IRA on the back foot, and that’s the case for the Democratic Unionists, and compare that to the Trimble era of concessions a day to the IRA, I think they will make their choice very clearly,” Mr Dodds said.
Senior member of the Ulster Unionist Party Reg Empey said the general election should be an opportunity for voters in the North to start “rebuilding from the centre, not supporting the extremes and hoping that it will work out”.
“I do not believe that people want their country carved up between Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley,” Mr Empey said.