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Wednesday, May 13, 1998 Published at 14:02 GMT 15:02 UK




The Yes campaign

The people of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are going to the polls to vote on whether to accept the political deal reached on April 10 at Stormont. The question those in the North are being asked is "Do you support the agreement reached in the multi-party talks on Northern Ireland and set out in Command Paper 3883?"

Many unionists and nationalists support the campaign for a Yes vote, but both stress different aspects of the agreement. This has caused problems for parties from both sides when they have appealed for support from their respective communities. Nationalists emphasise that the deal brings them closer to their goal of a united Ireland. Unionists argue that it strengthens the union.

The Yes campaign consists of: the largest unionist party - the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP); the two fringe loyalist parties - the Ulster Democratic Party (UDP) and the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP); the largest nationalist party - the Social Democratic Labour Party (SDLP); Sinn Fein; the non-sectarian parties - the Alliance Party; Workers Party and the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition; the Irish Government; the British Government; and the two opposition parties - the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.

Ulster Unionist Party

The UUP is the largest party in Northern Ireland, led by David Trimble. It won 33% of the vote in Northern Ireland in the general election, giving it 10 members of Parliament at Westminster.

The party is divided over the referendum. Of its 10 MPs, only 4 have said they are backing a Yes vote. They are David Trimble, deputy leader John Taylor, security spokesman Ken Maginnis and Cecil Walker.

Five MPs have pledged to vote No in the referendum. Jeffrey Donaldson MP, a member of the UUP talks negotiating team, walked out of the talks before the signing of the peace deal on April 10, and he too opposes the agreement.

But the Ulster Unionist Council, a body of 800 members, consisting of MPs, councillors, representatives of the Orange Order and ordinary party members, has given Mr Trimble its support, with 72% of its members voting for the agreement.

At the UUP's "Say yes for the union" campaign launch Mr Trimble said: "This agreement is only a beginning, but it is one upon which we are not afraid to embark. And I want to say this to those in the No campaign - I want to see an end to political cowardice in this country..."

Ulster Democratic Party

The UDP, a fringe loyalist party, has strong links with the banned loyalist paramilitary group, the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF). The party has no MPs and did not field any candidates for the 1997 general election. The party was expelled from the peace talks for a month in January after the UFF admitted taking part in the killings of three Catholics.

An important issue for the UDP is the peace deal's pledge to release paramilitary prisoners on licence.

The leader of the UDP, Gary McMichael, firmly supports a Yes vote. He criticised the Rev Ian Paisley, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, and UK Unionist leader, Bob McCartney, for their rejection of the deal.

"These people who are arguing against this agreement are people who abdicated their responsibilities at an early stage, who walked out of this process eight months ago," he said.

Progressive Unionist Party

The PUP is a fringe loyalist party linked to a banned paramilitary group, the Ulster Volunteer Force. Led by David Ervine, the party has no MPs but fielded 3 candidates in the 1997 general election and won 1% of the Northern Ireland vote. The PUP backs the agreement but Mr Ervine has said that many unionists are nervous about voting for it.

"No one said it was going to be easy. It's not going to be easy. There are those who are out to destroy. The question is, what can they put in its place? There is only one choice. I'm absolutely confident there will be a resounding Yes vote," he said.

Social Democratic Labour Party

John Hume leads the SDLP, the largest nationalist party and second largest party overall in Northern Ireland. It won 24% of the vote in Northern Ireland in the 1997 general election and has 3 MPs - Mr Hume, Seamus Mallon and Eddie McGrady.

Mr Hume has played a pivotal role in bringing the peace process to this stage and the SDLP is united in its support for the agreement.

Speaking at the Belfast launch of his party's Yes campaign Mr Hume said: "People can vote for this historic agreement with a sense of privilege, a sense of pride and a real sense of purpose. In this campaign the SDLP are not asking the people to vote for our party or against another party, but to vote for themselves and their children by voting positively and decisively for their hopes rather than their fears."

Sinn Fein

Sinn Fein is the political wing of the IRA and is devoted to establishing a united Ireland. It polled 16% of the vote in Northern Ireland at the last general election, making it the third largest party. It has two MPs, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness (although neither actually sits at Westminster).

The party's ruling executive is calling for a Yes vote but views the agreement as the first step towards to a united Ireland.

Although the IRA has said it supports the Sinn Fein leadership, it has refused to decommission arms. This was one of the main sticking points in securing the endorsement of the peace agreement by the unionists.

There is some republican opposition to Sinn Fein's decision to back the agreement. Sinn Fein's only deputy in the Republic of Ireland's Dail, Caoimhghin O'Caolain, abstained in a special debate on the peace deal.

Alliance Party of Northern Ireland

The Alliance Party has no MPs, but polled 8% of the vote during the general election. The non-sectarian party is firmly supporting the Yes campaign but is concerned about the planned release of paramilitary prisoners.

Lord Alderdice, the party leader, said: "Everyone has parts of the agreement which they do not like. However in general terms it is fair to all, and gives the best chance of having peace in a generation."

Workers Party

A republican socialist party, formerly known as Sinn Fein - the Workers' Party, its name was changed in 1982 to remove connections with traditional Irish republicanism.

Its aim is to establish a socialist, unitary state in Ireland. It has no MPs.

The party's Belfast Chairperson, John Lowry, has come out strongly in favour of the Yes campaign, saying "the principles of this agreement prioritise peace, work and democracy - the demands of democrats for over thirty years. It is on that basis that this agreement gets our support and why it is important that it is endorsed by an overwhelming majority of our citizens in the referendum."

Northern Ireland Women's Coalition

This is a non-sectarian party dedicated to a stable peace settlement and wholeheartedly supports a Yes vote.

Party leader Monica McWilliams has said that the deal offers women in Northern Ireland full and equal participation in political life for the first time ever.

Irish Government

The Irish Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern, is calling for a Yes vote in the referendum in the Republic of Ireland.

He was supported by all the main Irish parties in the Dail in a special debate on the peace deal.

British Government

Both the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats are sharing a platform with the Labour Prime Minister, Tony Blair, to campaign for a Yes vote.






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