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".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Sport
Floyd Mayweather will relinquish his five world titles after beating Manny Pacquiao
boxing
Arts and Entertainment
tvGame of Thrones season 5 ep 4, review - WARNING: contains major spoiliers!
News
Tottenham legend Jimmy Greaves has defended fans use of the word 'Yid'
people
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
  • Get to the point
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

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living