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News Tuesday, 15 June, 1999, 07:37 GMT 08:37 UK
Focus shifts to NI peace talks
Ulster Unionist Jim Nicholson is virtually certain to secure the final seat in Belfast as he secured the lion's share of transfers
Flyting the flag in Europe for the UUP, MEP Jim Nicholson with David Trimble
Northern Ireland politicians will return to the business of talks about the devolution of power and arms decommissioning after the Euro elections ended predictably in Belfast.

Prime Minister Tony Blair will be in Belfast on Tuesday to resume talks with party leaders and to refocus their attention on the critical weeks ahead as Drumcree and devolution loom.

As the count unfolded, the contest between Ian Paisley, heading the poll for the fifth successive time, and John Hume was not as close as the previous Euro poll in 1994, when just 154 votes separated the two. This time, Dr Paisley had 2,031 votes to spare over his SDLP rival.

The closest contest of the ballot was between Sinn Fein's Mitchel McLaughlin and Jim Nicholson of the UUP for the third seat - a battle which the unionist candidate eventually won, much to the relief of his leader, David Trimble.

Close for third

The only doubt was whether the Sinn Fein man could outpoll the UUP candidate on first preferences. When Mr Nicholson emerged with 119,507 votes, he was less than 2,000 ahead of his Sinn Fein rival.

But after the votes of the four bottom candidates were added in the second count, he was within 800 votes of the quota of 199,703. When Ian Paisley's surplus was added, it left the result in no doubt. Jim Nicholson was on his way back to Europe as Northern Ireland's third MEP with a third count vote of 184,709.

Even if that had failed, it is likely that sufficient SDLP voters supported the UUP candidate because of his Pro Agreement stance to ensure his election.

Mitchell McLaughlin, pipped for the third Euro seat by Jim Nicholson
Mitchell McLaughlin, pipped for the third Euro seat by Jim Nicholson
Sinn Fein will find comfort in their results South of the border where their Euro election candidates fared well without gaining any seats and where the party made a significant breakthrough in the local elections, securing 20 local government seats.

Good Friday Agreement

BBC Northern Ireland Political Editor Stephen Grimason believes that the result could put the party in a powerful position after the next General Election in the Irish Republic. "They have a springboard for a possible four seats in the Dail - that could give them the balance of power," he said.

Political analysts are interpreting the NI European vote as a boost for the Good Friday Agreement.

They believe that Dr Paisley's total is a huge personal vote but point out that over 460,000 voters expressed their support for the Good Friday Agreement against approximately 210,000 who signalled their opposition.

The DUP leader does not share this analysis. In his victory address, Dr Paisley said that Tony Blair did not have the support of the "majority of the majority".

"There is a majority of unionist people who will not bow nor bend nor budge in their attitude to this Agreement", he said.

Happy Hume

If Dr Paisley's vote were interpreted as a vote against the agreement, it would show that 60% of the unionist electorate voted against it at this election.

In his election address, John Hume stressed that he was not disappointed though he did not top the poll. He said it was the greatest vote his party ever received in any election.

Alliance Party leader, Sean Neeson fared particularly badly and another big loser is UKUP candidate, Bob McCartney whose tally of first preferences is likely to fall short fell of his 70,000 prediction.

Progressive Unionist Party leader, David Ervine is claiming victory in his personal battle with UKUP leader. The PUP candidate believes he polled approximately 23,000 votes.

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