Poll reveals Unionists' lack of confidence in peace plan

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The Independent Online

The splintered state of Protestant and Unionist opinion on the merits and conduct of the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement has been vividly illustrated in opinion poll evidence.

The splintered state of Protestant and Unionist opinion on the merits and conduct of the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement has been vividly illustrated in opinion poll evidence.

A new survey shows significant support for the Ulster Unionist Party leader, David Trimble, but an overall slippage of the Protestant community's confidence in the Agreement, and in the hopes of both communities for lasting peace.

The findings of the poll, carried out for the Belfast Telegraph newspaper by Ulster Marketing Surveys, indicate clearly that UUP voters do not support demands for withdrawal from the Northern Ireland executive and suspension of the Assembly.

But Mr Trimble's immediate problem, as he faces today's ruling council meeting, is that this body is more sceptical about the Agreement than the generality of party voters.

This means that although the poll contains some encouraging news for him, it by no means guarantees that he will prevail today, when anti-Agreement elements will push for withdrawal from government in the absence of an IRA arms handover.

The poll indicates that 68 per cent of UUP voters believe that Mr Trimble and his colleagues should continue in office, with only 27 per cent saying he should pull out.

Although this is heartening for Mr Trimble, the Protestant community as a whole is much less supportive, with 38 per cent in favour of suspension, and 42 per cent against.

Mr Trimble is well ahead of Jeffrey Donaldson MP, the most prominent spokesman for the anti-Agreement camp. Within the UUP 59 per cent of voters favour Mr Trimble, and only 29 per cent prefer Mr Donaldson.

Catholic and nationalist support for the Agreement has shown marginal slippage, but still remains over 90 per cent. Overall support among Protestants specifically has fallen, from 51 per cent in favour two years ago to just 47 per cent.

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