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Wednesday, 23 May, 2001, 11:19 GMT
Key seats will test Agreement support
Poster in NI referendum campaign
Support for NI's peace deal was last tested was in 1998
Three years on from the signing of the Good Friday Agreement this general election will provide an opportunity to test whether support for the peace deal has grown or waned.

BBC Northern Ireland's political editor Stephen Grimason examines in detail the seats which may give the best clue to the political temperature.

The Unionist population's attitude to the Good Friday Agreement will largely decide the outcome of the general election in Northern Ireland.

Nearly half of the 18 seats could change hands in what is being regarded as the most important poll in more than three decades.

At stake is the future of the Good Friday Agreement itself and perhaps Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble's political career.

Strong challenges

Seven seats are attracting most attention and all of them were held by Ulster Unionists in 1997.

The party won 10 seats in the last general election and there is certainly the potential for a meltdown of UUP support.


At stake is the future of the Good Friday Agreement itself and perhaps Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble's political career

Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party will be the major opponent for David Trimble's candidates but he will also face strong challenges from the SDLP and Sinn Fein in the west of Northern Ireland.

The DUP's electoral strategy is to attack the Good Friday Agreement which the UUP supports.

It hopes to winkle out sitting MPs on that basis, even those who are anti-Agreement in some areas.

Mr Trimble's strategy appears to be to tell his party faithful that the DUP is not interested in bringing down the Agreement.

Bitter public dispute

He contends Ian Paisley has had ample opportunity to wreck the Agreement's primary building block, the Northern Ireland Assembly and that his real agenda is to bring down the Ulster Unionist Party.

David Trimble
David Trimble's political career rests on this election

In the past the battle within nationalism has not reached the red hot temperature of the inter-unionist conflict but this time there has been a bitter public dispute between the SDLP and Sinn Fein on the subject of an electoral pact.

A meeting between the two parties aimed at striking a three-election deal which could deliver 11 of the 18 seats to nationalism went nowhere.

Sinn Fein proposed the pact but the SDLP described the move as political opportunism.

The key battlegrounds for the general election run right across Northern Ireland.

I have outlined seven seats which merit particular scrutiny.

Click here for South Antrim
Click here for Strangford
Click here for North Belfast
Click here for East Londonderry
Click here for West Tyrone
Click here for Fermanagh and South Tyrone
Click here for Upper Bann

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