Landslide predicted for 'Yes' vote

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The Independent Online
SUPPORTERS of a "Yes" vote in Ireland's double referendums last night predicted a convincing win of more than 70 per cent.

Voters came out in enormous numbers in Northern Ireland, with observers in some areas reporting local turnouts exceeding 90 per cent. The belief is that a high vote will help the "Yes" camp.

A senior nationalist politician said: "Some have been calling it the Good Friday agreement and some call it the Belfast agreement. I believe that after this vote it will be the people's agreement."

On the other side of the coin, William Thompson, an Ulster Unionist Party MP who has been prominent in the "No" camp, claimed a majority of Protestants would not support the accord. He said: "The mood today is definitely anti- agreement. People have been sickened by the pressure from outside Northern Ireland and many of those who were voting 'Yes' when the campaign started have decided otherwise."

Most observers, however, say they have detected a clear swing towards a "Yes" vote in the final few days of the campaign, with some of the most optimistic on the "Yes" side believing that something close to a landslide could be on the cards.

The result in the Irish Republic, where a parallel referendum was held yesterday, is regarded as an utterly foregone conclusion, with scarcely a "No" voter to be found. The turnout, though high, is however expected to be lower than in the north.

Unless the northern "Yes" vote percentage reaches the upper 70s, there will be sharp controversy over whether a majority of Unionists have endorsed the accord. The loyalist "No" campaigners claim that a "Yes" vote of 74 per cent is needed to demonstrate a pro-agreement Unionist majority, but this is contested by most commentators as an unreasonably high figure.

Some 1,175,000 people were entitled to vote, putting an X in "Yes" or "No" boxes beside the question: "Do you support the agreement reached at the multi-party talks on Northern Ireland and set out in Command Paper 3883?"

The ballot-papers from 583 locations throughout Northern Ireland will be taken to the King's Hall in south Belfast where counting is to begin at 9am today. A result is expected by early afternoon.

The Irish Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern, said in Dublin: "I am glad it is a high poll. One of the things that bothered democratic politicians over the years was that we couldn't find a structured way to get a democratic framework to the people to vote on. We have tried that in the last 30 years, the last 75 years. This is their opportunity to influence events. It is an appointment that the Irish people have with history."