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 A/V REPORTS
BBC NI's political correspondent Mark Simpson
profiles the North Belfast constituency
 real 56k

Friday, 23 March, 2001, 10:26 GMT
North Belfast: Unionism versus Nationalism

This will be an intriguing four cornered fight with all of the largest parties capable of winning although the unionists have a slight edge over nationalists.

Sitting Ulster Unionist Party MP Cecil Walker had privately indicated he wanted to stand down.

He is 76 and a full term would keep him in Westminster until he is 81.

He relented however after coming under pressure to stay when the party feared it would lose the seat if he retired.

A poor performance on a recent television programme, when Mr Walker said his hearing aid let him down, has raised more questions about his candidature. This is another seat targeted by the DUP, represented by Nigel Dodds who was briefly social development minister on the Assembly executive before the party rotated the position to Maurice Morrow.

Turnout

Mr Dodds, who represents north Belfast in the Assembly and is a long serving local councillor there, is making a big push for the seat.

Unionists have a 55% to 45% vote share advantage over the nationalist parties of the SDLP and Sinn Fein but turnout will be a factor here.

Alban Maginness of the SDLP and Gerry Kelly of Sinn Fein are both high profile politicians and this is a genuine four-way contest.

In the end it is likely to come down to how big an advantage the unionist and nationalist winners will have over their rival from their own community.

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