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Tuesday, 13 April, 1999, 09:51 GMT 10:51 UK
Northern Ireland's political parties
David Trimble and his UUP deputy John Taylor
Ulster Unionist Party

The UUP is the largest unionist party in Northern Ireland. It has 10 MPs after winning 33% of the vote at the 1997 General Election.

It also took 28 seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly, making party leader David Trimble the First Minister.

Mr Trimble played a vital role in negotiating the Good Friday Agreement despite criticism of some members of his party including MPs.

In recognition of this contribution he was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize with SDLP leader John Hume.

The UUP was formerly the Official Unionist Party. As such it formed the government of Northern Ireland from 1921 until 1972, when direct rule from London was imposed.

The central plank of UUP policy is maintaining the link between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. It is willing to tolerate North-South bodies as long as they have no executive powers.

Social Democratic and Labour Party

John Hume: Nobel Laureate
The SDLP is the largest nationalist party in Northern Ireland.

The party is left of centre and has always espoused non-violence in the pursuit of its aims.

It has been a long-standing critic of all paramilitary groups and the British military presence in Northern Ireland.

The party has three MPs including party leader John Hume. At the 1997 General Election it won 24% of the vote.

Mr Hume was instrumental in getting the peace process under way by holding talks with Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams and with the UK government.

His contribution was acknowledged last year when he was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize with Northern Ireland First Minister David Trimble.

The SDLP won 24 seats in the assembly, making it the second-largest party.

Mr Hume declined to become Deputy First Minister, allowing his number two, Seamus Mallon, to take up that post.

Democratic Unionist Party

Ian Paisley: Resolute opponent of Good Friday Agreement
The DUP was founded in 1971 by the Reverend Ian Paisley and William Boal, an MP who defected from the Official Unionists in protest at the policies of the then Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Terence O'Neill.

Under Rev Paisley's leadership it has strongly opposed the Good Friday Agreement.

It is similarly against any other move which it interprets as an attempt to weaken the union or as a concession to nationalists or the Republic.

The DUP is also strongly anti-Catholic in the religious sense, with Mr Paisley denouncing the Pope regularly. The party has two MPs at Westminster and 20 assembly seats.

Sinn Fein

Sinn Fein is a republican party devoted to establishing a united Ireland. It advocates strong cross-border bodies and the maintenance of the Republic's territorial claim to Northern Ireland, though it backs the Good Friday Agreement.

Martin McGuinness: Denies IRA links
The current form of the party dates back to 1970 when Provisional Sinn Fein split off from Official Sinn Fein, which became the Workers' Party. This split mirrored the split in the IRA into Official and Provisional wings.

Unionists say that Sinn Fein and the IRA are strongly linked, but the party denies this.

Sinn Fein is furious that First Minister David Trimble has refused to allow it to take up seats in the province's cabinet, the Northern Ireland Executive, until the IRA begins to disarm its weapons.

It says the agreement gives it an automatic right to attend regardless of the IRA's actions.

At the 1997 general election, it won 16% of the vote. However, its two MPs, party president Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, have never sat in Parliament as they refuse to take the oath of allegiance to the Queen.

Sinn Fein has 18 seats in the assembly.

Progressive Unionist Party

David Ervine: Paramilitary turned politician
The PUP is linked to the Ulster Volunteer Force, a banned paramilitary group.

The party dislikes what it sees as too many concessions to republicans during the peace process. However, it supports the Good Friday Agreement.

It has two representatives in the assembly, but no MPs.

Party leader David Ervine is a former paramilitary who spent 11 years in jail after a bomb was discovered at his home.

Alliance Party

Lord Alderdice: Alliance Party leader
Founded in 1970, the Alliance Party is non-sectarian and broadly liberal.

It has strongly supported the Good Friday Agreement. And it wants the assembly to be a strong body with a high degree of devolved powers on the lines of the Scottish Parliament.

The party has six seats in the assembly, but no MPs.

Party leader Lord Alderdice helped to bring Sinn Fein into the political process by holding discussions with the party when the IRA called a ceasefire in 1994.

Ulster Democratic Party

UDP leader Gary McMichael
The UDP has strong links with the banned loyalist paramilitary group, the Ulster Freedom Fighters.

The UDP left the peace talks in January 1998 after the UFF admitted taking part in the killing of three Catholics. If it had not left, it would have been suspended as parties are not allowed in the talks if groups to which they are linked take part in violence.

The party was re-admitted in February 1998 and later signed up to the Good Friday Agreement.

The UDP leader is Gary McMichael. The party has no MPs and to the surprise of many failed to win any assembly seats.

United Kingdom Unionist Party

UKUP founder Robert McCartney
The UKUP was set up in 1995 by its sole MP, Bob McCartney, a former member of the UUP.

And although the party won five seats in the assembly, one held by Mr McCartney, his four colleagues left to set up a new party called the Northern Ireland Unionist Party.

Mr McCartney supports the link with the UK. He opposes the Good Friday Agreement and any moves to involve the Irish Republic in Northern Ireland's affairs.

His central premise is that Northern Ireland should become more British and remain part of the UK simply because the majority of its citizens want it that way.

Northern Ireland Unionist Party

This breakaway group split from the UKUP in January 1999 blaming what they said was Bob McCartney's autocratic leadership style.

It holds four seats in the assembly and has pledged to remain hostile to the Good Friday Agreement.

The Workers' Party

A republican socialist party formerly known as Sinn Fein - the Workers' Party, It changed its name in 1982 in a bid to remove all associations with traditional Irish republicanism.

Operating on both sides of the border, it had six members of the Irish parliament in 1992 but they left to form a new party, the Democratic Left. Its aim is to establish a socialist, unitary state in Ireland.

Northern Ireland Women's Coalition

A non-sectarian party dedicated to a stable peace settlement and to promoting the role of women in Northern Ireland. It has no MPs but won two seats in the assembly.

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