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Tuesday, 12 June, 2001, 10:49 GMT 11:49 UK
Unionism: The view from the grassroots
Union and Loyal Order flags fly in a Protestant area of Belfast
Loyal to the crown - but what about the UUP?
BBC News Online's Derek Crawshaw goes in search of grassroots unionist opinion in the wake of the general election result.

If the Ulster Unionist Party employed spin doctors, even they would have a hard job putting a gloss on the Westminster election results in Northern Ireland.

Unionists of all shades are still taking in the results, some of which shocked the winners as much as it shocked the losers.


It's going to be a rough time for David Trimble, Sinn Fein is going to have to deliver for him

UUP voter
The party's poor showing is putting serious pressure not only on the party leader David Trimble and his supporters, but also on the future of the whole peace process.

In the Strangford constituency, Iris Robinson of the Democratic Unionists overturned a big Ulster Unionist majority to take the seat from David McNarry.

Right in the heart of the constituency at Newtownards marketplace, opinion was divided on the way ahead for the Ulster Unionists and for the search for peace.

One market stallholder, William, said: "I think that the election results are actually going to make the Good Friday Agreement stronger.

"I would be in favour of the Agreement myself. But I think it should be properly implemented.

David Trimble bites his lip at his election count
David Trimble: Tense weeks ahead
"Sinn Fein have to do something about the IRA giving up its weapons. They've delayed and delayed but after this election they can't do that any more.

"If they do, the Agreement will be over.

"It's going to be a rough time for David Trimble, Sinn Fein is going to have to deliver for him."

John, a council worker, said that he opposed the agreement - and that the election result would lead to it being scrapped.

"There's more trouble on the way for David Trimble," he said. "I used to vote for the Ulster Unionists - I'm an Orangeman - but I wouldn't now.

"You can't go into government with Sinn Fein until that IRA have given up their guns."

Neighbouring constituency

Over in the neighbouring constituency of North Down, the Ulster Unionist Lady Sylvia Hermon defeated the sitting UK Unionist MP Robert McCartney - a fierce critic of the Good Friday Agreement.


If we have no hope for the Agreement, then where do we go from there? It would be back to direct rule and nobody wants that.

Marsden Fitzsimons, Alliance Party
People in favour of the Agreement were happy to savour their local victory, but they also worried about the big picture of what had happened across the entire province.

Toby McMurray, a 23-year-old law student from Bangor, said that he believed the Good Friday Agreement was now on thin ice now.

"I think this is the most serious threat it has faced," he said. "I am pro-Agreement and, in my optimistic moments, I think that it will survive.

But in my pessimistic moments I'd only give it a 30% to 40% chance of surviving."

"The Ulster Unionist Party definitely will not fold, but it is obviously not going to be as strong as it was - the electorate have decided that."

Eternal optimist

Marsden Fitzsimons is a councillor in Bangor with the Alliance Party, which seeks support from both Catholics and Protestants.

A market stall in Newtownards flies an Orange Order flag
Taking the temperature: Shoppers divided
"It's going to be more difficult to keep the Good Friday Agreement going, but we must make it work," he said.

"And I am an eternal optimist. I believe it can survive.

"If we have no hope for the Agreement, then where do we go from there? It would be back to direct rule of Northern Ireland from Westminster instead of devolution and nobody wants that."

"The trouble with the election result is that the Democratic Unionist Party offers nothing that is acceptable to the other side - and we are not sure what Sinn Fein has to offer us."

He is very proud of the role the Alliance Party played by standing aside in the North Down Westminster election, believing that the move ensured victory for the Ulster Unionists against those out to wreck the Agreement.

But he still has big concerns: "David Trimble is going to need all the help he can get and there must be some progress in terms of decommissioning of IRA weapons.

"If he doesn't get anything from Sinn Fein, then David Trimble is going to have a very sticky time."

A perfect peace process?

Richard Nelson is 24 years old and works in Bangor for the Church of Ireland.

A newspaper billboard reports Sylvia Hermon's electoral victory
.. But what about Trimble's future?
He said: "It's a little scary now for the Good Friday Agreement. I believe it is definitely the only way forward, but if the people decide they don't want that, then that could wipe out five years of progress.

"There's no such thing as a perfect peace process, but this is the only one we've got.

"I would hope the Good Friday Agreement would have an 80% chance of surviving. But realistically I'm guessing that it has only a fifty-fifty chance."

Like many other young people from Northern Ireland, Richard went "across the water" to a university in Britain.

"I moved back here in part because the situation seemed to be getting more sensible," he said.

"But if things are going to regress back to the sectarianism of old, then I would have to think seriously about whether to stay or not.

"It may be that previously moderate people voted for the Democratic Unionists this time - and that obviously is bad news for David Trimble and the Ulster Unionists.

Richard said that he hoped that support for the DUP is at its maximum - and that another crucial factor influenced the outcome of the general election.

"Apathy is definitely a factor in elections here. I know a lot of people who think that there is simply no one worth voting for, nobody who represents their views.

"That apathy can let extremists gain ground."

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See also:

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