Hain flies in as Trimble bows out, warning of UK 'failure'

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The Independent Online

Efforts to inject fresh momentum into the Northern Ireland peace process have begun with a wave of political contacts which included a phone call between Tony Blair and the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern.

The new Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain, who arrived in Belfast yesterday, promised to work ''flat out'' to get politics moving again. The election results have confirmed the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein as the primary voices of Northern Ireland's Unionists and nationalists.

The two parties continued to do well yesterday in the early results of elections to Northern Ireland's 26 local councils. Many MPs are also involved in councils and were re-elected. In Castlereagh, east Belfast, the DUP husband-and-wife MPs Peter and Iris Robinson were joined on the council by their son Gareth.

David Trimble, who is stepping down as Ulster Unionist leader after a disastrous result which left his once-dominant party with just one Westminster seat, bade an emotional political farewell. He struck a pessimistic note for the future by doubting that the Rev Ian Paisley's DUP, now with nine Commons seats, had the capacity to finalise an acceptable deal.

He warned Mr Hain that a continuation of the present government policy would mean that "he will be a failure" as Northern Ireland Secretary.

Of his decade at the head of the UUP, he added: "There is no security of tenure in politics. You are at the mercy of the electorate all the time and you're also at the mercy of events. Actually, 10 years is a pretty good innings."

He said he was proud of his record and while the process was not complete "there were huge gains for the people of Northern Ireland", adding: "If I think back to Northern Ireland 10 years ago and look at Northern Ireland today, I could say there is a darned good balance-sheet there."

He said he had no regrets about the strategy which led to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. "I'm quite sure that the future development of Northern Ireland will be based on that Agreement, give or take a little bit here or there."

No front-runner has emerged as a successor. The UUP's sole MP, Lady Sylvia Hermon, has indicated she may be interested, and others mentioned include former MPs David Burnside and Lord Kilclooney, formerly John Taylor.