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Wednesday, April 29, 1998 Published at 18:13 GMT 19:13 UK

The peace plan translated?
image: [ Everyone in Northern Ireland eligible to vote has been sent the document ]
Everyone in Northern Ireland eligible to vote has been sent the document

Northern Ireland goes to the polls to vote on the Northern Ireland peace plan on May 22. But the 67-page document that explains the agreement has been criticised for being difficult to understand.

BBC Northern Ireland reporter Gill Robinson has been finding out what people really think of the document.

The BBC's Gill Robinson reports on the public's concern about the document (4'19")
The public seems to be split not only on how to vote, but also on whether they understand what they are voting about. The Plain English Campaign has likened the document to a "woolly jumper knit in a hurry."

But Dr Sydney Elliott, senior lecturer in politics at Queen's University in Belfast, is one of the few people who think that the agreement is not wordy enough.

More information needed

He said that he found seven different documents that he would have needed to read to put the agreement into context. Among these are the Irish Constitution of 1937, the Northern Ireland Constitution Act of 1973, the Assembly Act of 1982, the Anglo Irish Agreement of 1985 and the Frameworks Document of 1995.

"What would be a really useful task for someone to do would be to actually write this out in full and not in any succinct form ... so that everyone knew precisely what the nature of the linkages to existing legislation was," he said.

The devil's in the detail

The head of English at St Dominic's High School in Belfast, Maureen Boyle, has run the document through a grammar check on her computer. She said that it is "about as easy to read as a life insurance policy."

But she did say that it gave the impression of being a very hopeful because it had 157 "wills" in it and only one "never". She also pointed out that the writers could be thought of as a little sexist - the female Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam is oddly referred to as "him".

Ms Boyle feels quite strongly that people should not have to rely on someone else to translate the document for them. She thinks it would be a good idea for someone to produce a simplified version of the agreement.

"Literacy is power and in a sense if people are deprived of that ... if they can't grasp the meaning themselves then they are at once removed from power, " she said.

Idiots' guide

One person who could have the answer is Mike McKimm, a corporate management consultant who was browsing through the agreement on the Internet and decided to have a go at making it easier to understand.

He said that it was so difficult that after three hours he was still only on page 19. He plans to complete an "idiots' guide" to the agreement. When it is ready he said he would give to libraries and also put in on the Internet, so that everyone can have free access.

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