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Last Updated: Monday, 24 November, 2003, 15:58 GMT
NI future 'in electorate's hands'
Mr Blair was speaking two days before NI poll

Prime Minister Tony Blair has said the future of Northern Ireland is now in the hands of the electorate.

Mr Blair was speaking in central London two days before the election for the Northern Ireland Assembly on Wednesday.

The assembly was suspended more than a year ago and the parties are going into the election against the background of a deadlocked political process.

Mr Blair said: "This election will be a very big moment for people in Northern Ireland.

"We are now at the point in the politics of Northern Ireland where I can't make any more decisions - I can't renegotiate agreements, I can't rewrite those things that have already been agreed.

"The decision is now for people in Northern Ireland and they are going to have to decide, in a fundamental way, whether Northern Ireland today is a better place than it was six, seven, 10 years ago.

"And if it is they are going to have to vote for it."

He added: "I hope people choose the future not the past."

Earlier on Wednesday, Secretary of State Paul Murphy urged people eligible to do so to use their vote in Northern Ireland's Assembly election.

Mr Murphy said it was vital all those eligible voted in the election
Speaking to the BBC, Mr Murphy said there was a lot at stake in Wednesday's poll.

Mr Murphy said: "The main thing is that people see these elections and the restoration of government in Northern Ireland as progress, however difficult it might be, rather than go backwards," he said.

"That is why it is so important that people in Northern Ireland do actually come out and vote there is an awful lot at stake.

"The first thing we want is everybody who is eligible to take part in the election and after that we will see what emerges.

"We will look to what is common to the parties, devolution being restored and we will work towards that aim."

Meanwhile, the Electoral Commission in Northern Ireland has said its teams of observers will visit polling stations across all constituencies for the first time during Wednesday's election.

The 18 observers, some of whom will also attend the counts, will be contributing to the commission's first ever statutory report on the conduct and administration of an election to the assembly.

Head of the Electoral Commission Seamus Magee said: "The report will cover all aspects of conduct and administration from the environment in which polling stations are situated to adequate provision for wheelchair users, to the conduct of polling staff."


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