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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 April, 2005, 14:42 GMT 15:42 UK
NI parties step on election trail
The Northern Ireland electorate will vote twice on 5 May
The Northern Ireland electorate will vote twice on 5 May
Political parties in Northern Ireland are beginning their official election campaign after Tony Blair named 5 May as polling day.

The prime minister has asked the Queen to dissolve Parliament next week, ready for the general election.

He delayed announcing the poll date by 24 hours because of the Pope's death.

The last election saw big changes in NI's political geography. Currently, the DUP has six MPs, the UUP has five, Sinn Fein four and the SDLP has three.

The Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein made big gains at the expense of the more moderate SDLP and the Ulster Unionist Party.

Women MPs

The DUP took five seats, gaining three new seats from the Ulster Unionist Party in Strangford, East Londonderry and North Belfast.

The UUP topped the overall poll and gained two extra seats - but it lost five others. Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson later defected to the DUP.

Sinn Fein doubled their number of seats, from two to four - while the SDLP retained its three seats.

Peter and Iris Robinson of the DUP became the first husband and wife team from Northern Ireland to sit together in the Commons.

Iris Robinson was also one of three females who won Westminster seats in the last election.

Ulster Unionist Sir Reg Empey, who is standing in East Belfast, said he did not believe people in Northern Ireland wanted a country "carved up" between Ian Paisley's DUP and Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams.

He said: "Both these men are divisive. We need to be uniting Northern Ireland not dividing it. To have each section of the community operating separately, with its own leaders, is against the long term interests of everybody here."

'Unionist voters'

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams said his party would fight the election as an all-Ireland party.

"At the end of this campaign we aim to come out with increased political strength to allow us to ensure that in the negotiations which will follow this poll, the Good Friday Agreement agenda is secured and the peace process is advanced further," he said.

DUP MP Nigel Dodds said he believed unionist voters in Northern Ireland would back his party over the Ulster Unionists.

"When unionists see the choice between vibrant confident unionism which has held the line, engaged in constructive negotiations, put Sinn Fein/IRA on the back foot, and that's the case for the Democratic Unionists, and compare that to the Trimble era of concessions a day to the IRA I think they will make their choice very clearly," he said.

SDLP leader Mark Durkan said: "We are looking forward to this double election. We are going into it with strong slate of candidates for both the Westminster and local elections, and with a strong policy platform.

"The SDLP is the only party with proposals to end suspension right away. We are the only party working to end direct rule and return to the Good Friday Agreement."

Alliance leader David Ford said only his party had a "credible alternative vision" for Northern Ireland.

"We have a clear and coherent plan to reform the Agreement, to restore devolution, and to create an effective form of power-sharing government, without giving anyone a veto over progress," he said.

The council elections will take place in Northern Ireland on the same day as the general election.



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