- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 27, 2003

BELFAST — Northern Ireland’s landmark Good Friday peace deal appeared to be in trouble yesterday after elections to the province’s local parliament brought strong gains for both Protestant and Catholic hard-liners.

With 43 of the Northern Ireland Assembly’s 108 seats to be filled, results made grim reading for supporters of the 1998 accord, which delivered the British-ruled province from 30 years of inter-community bloodshed.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), led by the Rev. Ian Paisley, the tough-talking Protestant minister who is committed to reversing the Good Friday deal, won 18 seats — only two fewer than its total at the first assembly vote in 1998.

In contrast, the previously dominant Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) of Nobel Peace laureate David Trimble, leader of the province’s power-sharing government before its suspension last year, was left lagging with 11 seats.

On the Catholic side, Sinn Fein, the political voice of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), was perhaps the biggest winner after overtaking the more moderate Social Democratic and Labor Party (SDLP), winning 11 seats to its two.

An independent candidate gained the remaining seat.

Although the final results were likely to see considerable changes because of the complex transferrable vote electoral system in which the bulk of subsidiary choices had yet to be factored in, the election appeared to be a major reverse for moderates.

Pundits had warned that the collapse of the assembly in October last year amid a massive breakdown of trust was likely to send many voters scurrying back to their tribal trenches.

The main victim was the SDLP, which won 24 seats in the last assembly. Leader Mark Durkan — who by last night was the only party member elected — was downcast.

“There is no point in me trying to put any positive spin on this,” he told British Broadcasting Corp. local radio.

Given that the DUP refuses point-blank to deal with Sinn Fein, the success of both parties makes a deal to resurrect the assembly extremely unlikely, said Henry Patterson, professor of politics at the University of Ulster.

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