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Thursday, 20 September, 2001, 12:06 GMT 13:06 UK
Poll result urges assembly elections
The secretary of state should call elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly if agreement is not reached to break the current political deadlock, according to a BBC poll.

The survey, commissioned by the BBC Northern Ireland Hearts and Minds programme, suggests the election option would be a more popular choice than suspending the assembly.

As Dr John Reid ponders what to do if the parties fail to elect a new first and deputy first minister by midnight on Saturday, the poll examined his options:

  • 41% of those questioned said a fresh assembly election should be called

  • 31% said there should be a one-day suspension of the assembly to give the parties six more weeks to resolve their differences

  • 28% said there should be an indefinite suspension

    The most popular option among unionists was the indefinite suspension, while the favoured option among nationalists was a fresh election.

    Overall, the election was the most popular choice, but the poll indicates that whatever decision Dr Reid makes it will not win universal approval.

    Northern Ireland secretary
    John Reid is "pondering next move"

    The poll - which was conducted by PriceWaterhouseCoopers - also gauged the level of support for the proposed new Police Board.

    The results suggest that the majority of unionists and nationalists are prepared to back the new board.

    Among unionists, 64% supported nominations to the new board, while 61% of nationalists also giving their backing.

    The opinion poll - which was conducted last week - recorded a low-level of confidence in the various paramilitary ceasefires, especially those declared by loyalist groups.

    Unionists were asked to say in whose hands they felt the Union was the safest.

    Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble received 48% backing, compared to 32% who backed the anti-Agreement Democratic Unionist Party leader Ian Paisley.

    The UUP topped the poll in terms of party support, but Sinn Fein and the DUP both recorded their highest-ever percentage share in an opinion poll in Northern Ireland.

    Just over 1170 people responded to the survey, which was conducted across Northern Ireland.

    The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 %.

    Click on the links below for the main results

    BBC NI political correspondent Mark Simpson:
    "The poll suggested the most popular option for the secretary of state would be to call an assembly election"
    See also:

    20 Sep 01 | Northern Ireland
    Hearts and Minds poll: Detail
    20 Sep 01 | Northern Ireland
    Government preparing for poll 'flak'
    20 Sep 01 | Northern Ireland
    Hearts and Minds survey: Part one
    19 Sep 01 | Northern Ireland
    PMs reaffirm peace process support
    18 Sep 01 | Northern Ireland
    IRA warned about Colombia 'links'
    18 Sep 01 | Northern Ireland
    Paisley holding back on policing
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