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The BBC's Denis Murray
"Mr Trimble is standing his ground"
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The Reverend William McCrea
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Friday, 22 September, 2000, 10:07 GMT 11:07 UK
Blow to NI peace deal
William McCrea celebrates after by-election victory
William McCrea celebrates after by-election victory
The Reverend Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party has won the South Antrim parliamentary by-election, in a setback for the Northern Ireland peace process.

Reverend William McCrea, a bitter opponent of the Good Friday Agreement, received 11,601 votes to give him a 822 majority.

The former Mid Ulster MP took what had been traditionally been the second safest seat of the Ulster Unionists, who had a 16,000 majority.

By-election result
Reverend William McCrea(DUP) 11,601
David Burnside(UUP) 10,779
Donovan McClelland (SDLP) 3,496
Martin Meehan(Sinn Fein)2,611
David Ford (Alliance) 2,031
David Collins (Natural Law) 49
The first by-election since the General Election and the creation of the Northern Ireland Assembly, it has been seen as a microcosm of the pro- and anti-agreement struggle within unionism across Northern Ireland.

The agreement, and particularly its provisions on sharing government with republicans, paramilitary prisoner releases and reforming the Royal Ulster Constabulary, has deeply divided unionism.

Six candidates were fighting for the seat left vacant by the death of Ulster Unionist MP Clifford Forsythe in April. He was South Antrim MP for 17 years.

The votes for the other candidates were: David Burnside (UUP) 10,779; David Collins (Natural Law) 49; David Ford (Alliance) 2,031; Donovan McClelland (SDLP) 3,496 and Martin Meehan (Sinn Fein) 2,611.

Speaking after the result, Mr McCrea said: "The vast majority of the unionist population have made a judgment today - a judgment upon the Belfast Agreement, that iniquitous agreement that has been the destruction of democracy in our country.

"And I would say that it also serves notice to those who misled the unionist population to a vote in the referendum against traditional unionism and today has been a historic day.

"And I believe that a lead has now been given to the rest of the unionist family throughout this province. The signal has been given clearly."

Mr McCrea's new constituency includes Antrim District and part of Newtownabbey and covers prosperous commuting areas for Belfast.

It is not typical territory for the DUP which did not field a candidate there at the 1997 General Election.

Mr McCrea was Mid Ulster's MP from 1983 to 1997, when he lost the seat to Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness.

David Trimble:  Blamed the defeat on a protest vote
David Trimble: Blamed the defeat on a protest vote
Friday's result increases Mr Paisley's group at Westminster to three.

Losing the seat will be seen as a major blow to the Ulster Unionists.

The leader of the Ulster Unionist Party and First Minister, David Trimble, in a statement, blamed the defeat on a protest vote against the government's treatment of the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

"It is clearly a reflection of the level of unease within the Unionist community at this time.

"Whilst the low turnout has reduced the Ulster Unionist Party vote, the main reason we attribute to the loss of this seat is the Patten Report and the treatment of the RUC by Her Majesty's Government.

"The message we were given by Unionist voters on the doorstep was that they felt they had to register a protest vote against the government's treatment of the RUC.

"The Ulster Unionist Party will have to reflect on this result. But more importantly, the prime minister and Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson will have to now address the problems unionists have with Patten."

Defeated Ulster Unionist candidate David Burnside
David Burnside: Wants to stand again
Defeated Ulster Unionist candidate Mr Burnside said he intended to stand in the constituency again at the next general election.

He added that unionists felt their British identity was under "very, very serious threat".

"I believe as strongly as any other unionist that the disgraceful treatment of the RUC past, planned and future in some way symbolises all that has gone wrong with this peace process which unfortunately has turned into a drip by drip appeasement process to republicanism," he told party workers after the declaration.

For much of the polling day on Thursday polling was sluggish as rain fell on the constituency.

Turnout is believed to have been about 43%.

The result was annnounced at the Valley Leisure Centre in Newtownabbey early on Friday morning.

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See also:

22 Sep 00 | Northern Ireland
Trimble admits defeat is 'setback'
22 Sep 00 | Northern Ireland
The gospel-singing MP
18 Sep 00 | Northern Ireland
South Antrim by-election: The candidates
01 Jun 00 | Northern Ireland
DUP win mayoral battle
15 Sep 00 | Northern Ireland
Peace process 'at risk' over policing
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