Ian Paisley’s DUP has formally declared the 1998 Good Friday Agreement dead and gone as the party appears set to virtually wipe out David Trimble’s Ulster Unionist Party in the May 5 British general election.
SInn Féin and the DUP are predicted to make big gains in the nationalist and unionist communities respectively. Early odds at the bookmakers -- often considered a more reliable indicator than opinion polls in the North -- show the two main parties could scoop all but two of the 18 Westminster seats up for grabs, leaving just one apiece for the UUP and SDLP.
Indeed, both the leaders of the smaller parties -- Mark Durkan of the SDLP and David Trimble of the UUP -- are likely to lose their seats, according to the bookmakers.
At the party’s manifesto launch this week, Ian Paisleymade it clear his party was targeting David Trimble’s seat in Upper Bann, and set the scene for a battle between his party and Sinn Féin for the most number of votes cast in the north.
“The only way that IRA/Sinn Féin can be defeated is if the DUP is declared by the majority of voters to be Northern Ireland’s largest party and the authentic voice of Northern Ireland,” he said.
The DUP is also insisting the British government press ahead with moves to form a devolved government without Sinn Féin regardless of any further peace moves by the Provisional IRA. And as far as the party was concerned, the Good Friday Agreement was history.
Deputy leader Peter Robinson said: “The Belfast agreement is dead, it is failed, it is gone.”
Mr Paisley said Northern Ireland was on the eve of one of the most ‘destiny-deciding’ elections.
He claimed that a “sea change” had taken place world-wide.
“Those who were once IRA/Sinn Féin apologists and defenders have now turned their backs on them,” he said.
“For the first time IRA/Sinn Féin has been totally wrong-footed. Now it is up to the electorate to give their verdict on the situation.
“The only way IRA/Sinn Féin can recover is by becoming the largest party in Northern Ireland in this election. That is the issue of this election. It is not a battle between the unionist parties.
“It is a battle between victory and defeat for the IRA and the salvation of the union.”
Mr Paisley also said the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern must be told to “keep his dirty hands of interference off the internal affairs of Northern Ireland”.
“We are not part of any Irish Republic. We don’t intend to be a part of any Irish Republic,” he said.
“We are part of this United Kingdom and here we are going to remain.
“The united Irish nightmare is ended. We have come out into the openness of peace and prosperity... and the first of the sun arising is now taking place.”
Meanwhile, Sinn Féin’s Caitriona Ruane launched the party’s Equality platform on Wednesday.
The party’s South Down Westminster candidate said that “more than 35 years after the Civil Rights Movement launched its campaign to highlight the nature of structural discrimination in housing, voting and jobs, these same issues remain at the core of continued inequalities.”
According to latest statistics, nationalists are more likely to suffer from poverty, more likely to be unemployed or long-term unemployed, and at greater risk of experiencing multiple deprivation.
“The entrenched inequality within the northern state is such that more than 35 years later we are still evidencing these same patterns of inequality,” she said.
“Sinn Féin wants an end to second class citizenship and an end in the mindset of policy makers who, despite equality legislation and equality mechanisms like the Equality Commission, pay lip service to eradicating poverty and undermine the equality agenda.”