A new era for Ulster as the people say `Yes' brighter future

THE Good Friday agreement, setting out the most far- reaching transformation of political structures and society since Northern Ireland was founded in the 1920s, is today expected to be endorsed in a historic referendum.

The final days of an intensive campaign have seen a decisive shift towards the "Yes" camp, leading to estimates of a pro-agreement vote ranging from 65 to 72 per cent.

Any figure close to 70 per cent will come as an intense relief to the Government and the pro-agreement parties, since it would represent a significant recovery after a near-disastrous start to their campaign.

Last night the signs were that intensive campaigning by the Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble, and in particular by Tony Blair, had first staunched a flow of Unionists to the "No" camp and then, in the final days, turned the tide. Both the Prime Minister and the Ulster Unionist party said they detected a late surge among the large number of undecided Unionists into the "Yes" camp.

The "No" camp yesterday staged a line-up of leading figures including the Rev Ian Paisley, leaders of the Orange Order and important MPs from Mr Trimble's party. The final images generated by the pro-agreement campaigners were those of Mr Blair signing a hand-written list of pledges to Unionists, and of Mr Blair posing between Mr Trimble and the SDLP leader, John Hume.

Those on both sides of the argument spent a whirlwind final day seeking to sway those Unionists who, after six weeks of debate, said they were still undecided on how to vote today. There were a number of bad-tempered moments, as hecklers shouted at the Prime Minister, Mr Trimble and the Unionist "No" campaigner Robert McCartney.

All the activity was concentrated on the Unionist side, since, according to the opinion polls, support for the agreement among northern nationalists has reached an extraordinary 96 per cent. The pro-agreement vote in the Republic, which holds its own simultaneous referendum today, is also expected to be overwhelming.

Mr Blair, who was again in the forefront in campaigning for a "Yes" vote, was heckled while visiting a Belfast hospital by one man who shouted: "You're a rebel, Blair, go back to England where you belong, you're not wanted here."

But the Prime Minister was also cheered on the same visit, receiving generally supportive messages as he carried out a morning of engagements. In an upbeat assessment he said: "My sense is that we are moving towards a `Yes'. Last week people were concerned, but this week they are re-focusing on the big picture, and seeing as a whole the agreement is right. People here have a very strongly developed sense of justice, of moral justice, and people understand this agreement is a just agreement."

Mr Paisley later responded: "Mr Blair's assurances, handwritten or not, are worthless and the people will not be taken in by these assurances. The people of Northern Ireland are not going to believe the Prime Minister."

Mr Blair in turn rejected the "No" camp's contention that only a 74 per cent "Yes" vote would be decisive. He said: "That's simply not correct. I want as many people to support us as we possibly can. That's because I believe this agreement is right and it's just."

Two potentially important voices meanwhile endorsed the "Yes" campaign. The Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh, Dr Robin Eames, said he had agonised over almost every page of the document before arriving at his decision.

He added: "I have big problems with this document, but none of us want the grandchildren of Northern Ireland, let alone the children of Northern Ireland, to live their lives as so many of us have had to live ours."

A further endorsement came from Sir John Hermon, former chief constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, whose stance may influence members of the force who had yet to decide how to vote. Appearing alongside Mr Trimble, he said: "A `Yes' vote will hold the centre ground of moderation and leave the extremists where they ought to be - out on the extremes." The Tory leader, William Hague, who was also in Belfast, urged people not to be complacent and to turn out at the polling stations, saying that a small majority in the poll would be "very dangerous".

News
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleThe idea has been greeted enthusiastically by the party's MPs
News
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
people
Voices
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012
voicesAnd nobody from Ukip said babies born to migrants should be classed as migrants, says Nigel Farage
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
News
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
people
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tvReview: It's gripping edge-of-the-seat drama, so a curveball can be forgiven at such a late stage
News
Brazilian football legend Pele pictured in 2011
peopleFans had feared the worst when it was announced the Brazil legand was in a 'special care' unit
News
i100(More than you think)
Sport
Brendan Rodgers seems more stressed than ever before as Liverpool manager
FOOTBALLI like Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
News
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
News
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
Sport
Benjamin Stambouli celebrates his goal for Tottenham last night
FOOTBALL
Life and Style
Dishing it out: the head chef in ‘Ratatouille’
food + drinkShould UK restaurants follow suit?
News
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML, CSS, SQL

£39000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML,...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial / Residential Property - Surrey

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Programme - Online Location Services Business

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: What do you want to do with your career? Do yo...

Recruitment Genius: Senior QC Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is a leading expert in immunoassa...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game