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Thursday, 10 May, 2001, 19:57 GMT
Unionists get out the crystal ball

The two main unionist parties in Northern Ireland have pinned their colours to the mast and predicted the number of seats they will take at Westminster.

The DUP deputy leader Peter Robinson, whose party holds three seats at present, says they will take eight this time.

He said on Thursday: "I predict this will be the mother and father of an election.

"We will hold back nothing in our efforts to ensure voters get our message."


There are areas where the UUP is going to make gains

David Trimble
UUP leader
Mr Robinson also said that a new set of political negotiations were "inevitable" after the forthcoming poll.

The DUP have announced they are running in 14 of the 18 constituencies - their highest total ever.

The five extra seats being particularly targeted by them are understood to be: East Londonderry, East Antrim, Strangford, West Tyrone and North Belfast.

But their claims were countered by the UUP leader David Trimble.

During a visit to Craigavon in County Armagh he said: "It's been obvious I think for quite some time that there are areas where the UUP is going to make gains.

David Trimble
David Trimble says he is 'quite confident'
"I have been quite confident, especially since I saw our private opinion polls several weeks ago, that we're going to return to Westminister with nine or ten seats.

"I very much hope it's at the upper end of that."

At present the UUP hold nine of Northern Ireland's Westminster seats.

But many commentators have speculated that the party will be under more pressure than ever before from the rival DUP over their positions on the Good Friday Agreement.

Bitter rivals

Enmity between the DUP and UUP has never been higher than at present.

The DUP is anti-Agreement though it takes its seats at Stormont.

The UUP is officially pro-Agreement but the party is split over whether it should sit in government with Sinn Fein in the absence of IRA decommissioning.

The handover of paramilitary weapons has been a major area of contention for unionists and David Trimble's party has been accused of betraying the electorate by the DUP.

The day the election was called Mr Trimble joined battle with the party when he announced he planned to resign on 1 July if the IRA had not moved on the arms issue.

That was described as a "cynical election ploy" by Peter Robinson.

'Biggest party' ambition

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams has his party's aim is not to become the biggest nationalist party on the island of Ireland, but the biggest party overall.

Gerry Adams: Convinced Sinn Fein can attract all-island vote share
Gerry Adams: Convinced Sinn Fein can attract all-island vote share
Speaking on the BBC's Hearts and Minds programme on Thursday evening, Mr Adams said: "We're an all-Ireland party. We want to grow across the island.

"It's unique that people can vote for us in Kerry or Derry, in Dublin or Belfast."

Mr Adams said he believed his party's approach could attract support from all sections of society.

"We try to take a strategic view to this electoral contest in the North. We're reaching across the whole range.

"Our objective is to grow into the largest party on the island whatever that may be."

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Related stories:

08 May 01 |  Northern Ireland
Trimble threat sets campaign tone
28 Jan 01 |  Northern Ireland
DUP not contesting anti-accord seats
18 Nov 00 |  Northern Ireland
DUP urges 'pan-unionist' front
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