Ireland: 1,000 candidates to stand for Assembly

AFTER the phoney war, the real political conflict. The forthcoming elections for a Northern Ireland Assembly look certain to eclipse last week's peace referendum in rivalry, skulduggery and sectarian bitchiness. The power to run Ulster is at stake, and most of the competing parties would cheerfully drive it through each other's heart.

On 25 June, Ulster's 1.2 million voters will choose 108 members for a Stormont with a difference: the first power- sharing administration since the collapse of the Sunningdale government of 1974. It comes equipped with locking devices to ensure that neither "tradition" dominates the other, in the way that Protestant-dominated parliaments did for almost 50 years before the Troubles restarted.

The jockeying for power has already begun. No one is very surprised. Elected members of the assembly will be paid pounds 36,000 a year, plus the same again in expenses and allowances. "This is big bucks over here," said a political insider. "Especially for politicians who have never got paid for anything, and are just in it because they hate each other. Now they are going to get paid for hating the other lot."

A rush of applications is confidently predicted. The electoral deposit has been set deliberately low at pounds 150 to allow the maximum participation by Northern Ireland's myriad fringe parties, practically all of whom will not win a single seat. Each of the 18 constituencies will elect six members under the single transferable vote form of proportional representation. It seems likely that as many as 1,000 hopefuls will present themselves for election, most of them no-hopers and some from eccentric parties who found their way on to the Northern Ireland Forum because of political (and military) correctness.

No such corrective mechanisms operate this time. It is a straight slog between the big boys. Gerry Adams's Sinn Fein is seeking to supplant the SDLP as the biggest nationalist party. The "Shinners" will do well, taking probably 19 of the 44 nationalist seats, and confirming their role as the fastest-growing political party in Northern Ireland. But they are likely to pile up votes in traditional working-class strongholds without breaking through in the marginal middle-class constituencies.

The Unionist political balance sheet is a nightmare. Judged on previous form, the Official, Pro-Agreement Ulster Unionists will pick up 29 seats, the Rev Ian Paisley's Anti-Agreement Democratic Unionists 22 seats, Robert McCartney's maverick UK Unionist Party perhaps three and the parties linked directly to the Loyalist paramilitaries maybe two, depending on whether they reach an electoral pact not to oppose each other. So "moderate" unionists who support the Good Friday Agreement ought to be in a majority.

This encouraging scenario is complicated by the difficulty of UUP leader David Trimble in ensuring that all his candidates follow his party's line. Some are certain to be chosen and elected on an Anti-Agreement ticket. The outcome could be a dominant unionist bloc dedicated to wrecking the Assembly, but particularly the North-South machinery designed to reform and revitalise Dublin-Belfast links.

The Assembly members will not have much to do for their money, at least for the first few months. Sinn Fein members will be lucky to see more than pounds 20 a week of their stipend, the rest going to party funds. At Westminster, legislation is running well behind realpolitik, and the power-sharing body will not be fully operational until some time next year.

The legislature, with powers of law making but not, for the foreseeable future, of tax raising, will have a Cabinet of six to 10 members. Sinn Fein expects to have at least one seat on the body. "Gerry Adams will school your children" was used as a slogan by the No campaign to frighten unionist waverers, but there will be provisions preventing politicians wedded to violence from getting their hands on the levers of power.

It could be an illusion: Mr Adams insists that Sinn Fein has no weapons, but he has signed up to military decommissioning. This may prove the stumbling block. Mr Trimble says he will not meet a Sinn Fein "minister" who does not, or cannot, deliver the IRA's arms. Furthermore, the DUP says it has legal advice that permits wrecking measures to collapse the Assembly. Even the official Unionists talk of bringing it down if it is not to their liking. The shooting may be over, but the war has not ended.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

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

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there