Poll in Ulster deals blow to peace hopes: Northern Ireland election results confirm picture of a society deeply polarised

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The Independent Online
THE VOTE for both extremes of the political spectrum held up well in the Northern Ireland local government elections yesterday, providing little cheer for the Government's ambition of making progress in resumed political talks.

The Sinn Fein vote went up marginally, while the Rev Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party dropped only half of one per cent. Support for the two parties, which had been slipping over recent years, now appears to have stabilised.

Overall, the election provided no signs of major shifts in attitudes, the results tending to confirm the picture of a deeply polarised community. This was symbolised by the fact that, in Londonderry, the dwindling Protestant community lost its last councillor on the west bank of the Foyle, a sign of the deepening segregation which affects the city and elsewhere.

Comparisons with the 1989 council elections showed only marginal differences. Sinn Fein's vote went up from 11.2 to 12.5 per cent, adding half a dozen extra seats to its previous total of 43. The party fared particularly well in its strongholds of north and west Belfast, winning the largest share of the vote in the city and taking extra seats.

It also did well in Dungannon, Co Tyrone, unexpectedly pushing up its vote in the wake of last week's acquittal of six paratroopers accused of assaulting customers in bars in Coalisland. One shock result in this council was the defeat of Ken Maginnis, the Ulster Unionist MP, who fell victim to an over-ambitious attempt to exploit the proportional representation system.

Sinn Fein has denied allegations by the Social Democratic and Labour Party and others that it used widespread personation in the election, describing such accusations as scurrilous and unsubstantiated. The SDLP's vote went up by 0.9 per cent to 21.9, while the middle-of- the-road Alliance Party rose by 0.8 per cent to 7.7.

The Ulster Unionists' vote dropped by 2.3 per cent to 29, while the rival DUP went down 0.5 per cent to 17.2, the latter confounding the many observers who had predicted it would lose much more ground. The party's pledge that it will not re-enter talks before substantial nationalist concessions on the issue of the Irish Republic's constitution will provide an immediate hurdle for Sir Patrick Mayhew, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who hopes to make an immediate move to reopen talks.

The Conservative Party lost much of its fragile foothold, dropping some of its dozen seats.

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