Ireland: End of the beginning: now the North can look ahead

Triumph for Ahern in South
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The Independent Online
IRISH citizens gave Taoiseach Bertie Ahern the overwhelming mandate he had asked for to "crush" any remaining terrorist campaign, when 94 per cent of them voted for the Northern Ireland agreement.

The result vindicated Mr Ahern's negotiating strategy in the Stormont talks. The total in favour was 1,442,583 against a No vote of 85,748, amounting to 5.6 per cent.

The largest vote in favour was in Cork East at 96.3 per cent, while the largest No vote was 7.2 per cent in the Republican stronghold of Kerry North.

The result marks a considerable victory for the youthful premier after less than a year in office. Mr Ahern succeeded in dispelling fears in his own Fianna Fail party that dropping Ireland's constitutional claim over Northern Ireland would effectively mean abandoning Northern nationalists.

That claim, enshrined in the 1937 constitution, has now been amended by yesterday's result to become an aspiration to unity by consent.

The No lobby struggled to secure barely 5 per cent of the poll, and Irish ministers who had feared apathy after a one-sided campaign were relieved whenclose to 60 per cent of the Republic's voters turned out.

Support was strongest in the urban areas of Dublin and Cork, and in counties Wicklow and Westmeath, where it topped 95 per cent. Even lower Yes polls in counties such as Tipperary North still reached 90 per cent.

Despite the result the leader of the main opposition to the agreement in the south, Republican Sinn Fein leader Ruairi O'Bradaigh, said: "We intend to continue campaigning for British disengagement."

n Irish voters also approved the EU Amsterdam treaty on closer ties within Europe by a margin of 68 per cent to 32 per cent.