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Friday, 15 June, 2001, 17:07 GMT 18:07 UK

Changes to NI political map

BBC NI political correspondent
Mark Simpson says never has the political map undergone such dramatic change.

Five MPs from the last Parliament lost their seats - a remarkably high number in a region where political opinions are so entrenched.

And the results indicate that the middle ground of politics in Northern Ireland has been squeezed.

It was the DUP and Sinn Fein which made the big gains, at the expense of the SDLP and the Ulster Unionist Party.

Unlike the UUP, the SDLP did not lose any seats - but the party has been left bitterly disappointed by the result in West Tyrone.

Their candidate, Brid Rodgers, enjoyed a high profile in recent months in her role as Stormont's Agriculture Minister and an enormous amount of time and effort was devoted to her campaign.

Not only was she beaten, but she only came third. That summed up the SDLP's election.

At the 1998 Assembly election, the party gained the largest share of the vote in NI. In the latest election, the party came fourth.

The UUP topped the overall poll and gained two extra seats - but it lost five others.

The drop from nine seats to six was bad news for party leader David Trimble - and he was forced into a recount in order to fend off the DUP in his own seat, Upper Bann.

In the end, it was a net loss of three seats for the UUP. So what does this mean for Mr Trimble, and his position as first minister?

His adviser Steven King said in a recent newspaper article: "A net loss of more than two seats will probably provoke a crisis Trimble will not be able to withstand."

Clearly, the UUP leader is now a man under pressure. But it would premature to write him off - and to predict the demise of the Assembly.

Negotiations will take place in the middle of this month aimed at securing the future of devolution. Issues like arms decommissioning, policing and demilitarisation will be at the top of the agenda.

At present, it is difficult to see how the difficulties can be resolved to all the parties' satisfaction, but the British and Irish governments are determined to find a successful formula.

For the moment, all sides will take some time to digest the election results.

They will make particularly happy reading in the Robinson household in east Belfast. Peter and Iris Robinson have become the first husband and wife team from NI to sit together in the Commons.

Things in the Robinson family may never be quite the same again - a bit like the political geography of Northern Ireland.

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