Desperate search for Ulster 'fix'

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Frantic attempts are being made today to find a political fix in Northern Ireland before the midnight deadline for saving Ulster's political institutions.

Frantic attempts are being made today to find a political fix in Northern Ireland before the midnight deadline for saving Ulster's political institutions.

The leader of the centrist Alliance Party held out some hope that a compromise could be reached but said that parties other than his, had to share the burden.

The new crisis began when Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble and SDLP Leader Mark Durkan failed to get elected to the top two posts in the power sharing government, despite securing 70% support.

While they won the necessary nationalist support, they failed by one vote to secure the unionist backing they also needed under cross community voting procedures to become First and Deputy First Ministers. Two members of Mr Trimble's party face internal disciplinary action for failing to support him for the First Minister's job.

The Alliance leader David Ford argued today that it was ridiculous that under the current voting system Mr Trimble and Mr Durkan could secure over 70% of the Assembly's votes but "failed to be elected because of some peculiar voting rule".

He continued: "We wanted a fundamental review of the voting system and that has been conceded by the Secretary of State (John Reid) and the other parties. We need further certainty about what needs to be done."

There was no reason why the nationalist SDLP could not join with other parties in redesignating their assembly members to save the Northern Ireland Assembly.

He urged the SDLP to consider redesignating one of its Assembly members as a unionist in a bid to help its Mr Durkan to become Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister and Mr Trimble to become First Minister.

With Alliance's five Assembly members under pressure to redesignate as unionists to help Mr Trimble and Mr Durkan in another attempt to get elected, Mr Ford told PA News that there was no reason why his party should have to change their political affiliation in the Assembly.

"Alliance is a party of the centre, a liberal party," the South Antrim MLA said.

"At our party meeting last night it was argued that it was more feasible for the SDLP to redesignate as unionists.The SDLP and unionists are both nationalists - one is a British Nationalist Party and the other an Irish Nationalist Party.

"They have a lot more in common with each other than we have with them as a centre ground party. So it is not just up to us. There is a strong argument for everyone to share the burden," he said.

In today's telephone talks, Mr Ford said the party would be seeking clarification from the Government on how its concerns over voting procedures in the Assembly would be addressed.

Under the present voting system at Stormont, Alliance is designated as a non-aligned party.

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