Parties in the North are bracing for a likely Westminster general election that could undermine attempts to ‘bed down’ the Belfast Assembly.
Political pundits are increasingly confident that British Prime Minister Gordon Brown will take advantage of a lead in the polls to seek an electoral mandate following the resignation of Tony Blair. An election could be called at any moment for a date as soon as the end of this month.
In the north, the two main unionist parties are said to have reached an advanced stage in negotiations for an electoral pact to capture seats held by two nationalists -- Sinn Fein’s Michelle Gildernew, MP for Fermanaagh/South Tyrone and the SDLP’s Alasdair McDonnell, the MP in South Belfast.
Discussions have also broached the subject of merging Ian Paisley’s DUP with Reg Empey’s UUP in the near future.
Empey confirmed that he had been approached by the DUP and had agreed a meeting with that party’s officials.
“The DUP has approached us about a meeting and we have agreed to meet, but it’s one step at a time,” the UUP leader said.
Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson, who jumped ship from the UUP in 2005, said his party “is reaching out offering engagement particularly in key marginal constituencies and that is a basis for the future.”
But he added: “People are asking the question as to why the UUP exists and would like to see a single strong unionist movement.”
Meanwhile, republicans are being asked to ensure they are registered to vote.
Sinn Fein’s A Paul Butler said that those people who are not on the electoral register should now claim their right to vote and fill in a registration form.
Nr Butler also said that anyone without photographic ID should avail of upcoming opportunities to secure photo ID to allow them to vote in the event of a snap Westminster election.
“It is also imperative that everyone aged 16 and over is included on the new Electoral Register to allow young people to make an impact on the direction in which politics develops on our island,” he said.
You need to register if:
* You have moved house within the last year
* You have moved to the north of Ireland during the last year
* You have turned 16 during the last year
or if you know you are eligible to register but not yet listed.
You can register if you are:
* An Irish, British, or ‘Commonwealth’ citizen, or a citizen of a member state of the European Union
* 16 or over (but you cannot vote until you are 18)
* Resident in the north of Ireland for the last three months
The registration form is available in a range of languages, including Irish, on the registration page of the electoral office website at www.eoni.org.uk.