Unionists face poll test after MP dies

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The Independent Online

The unexpected death of Ulster Unionist MP Clifford Forsythe has raised the prospect of a hard-fought by-election on the issue of support for the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process.

Mr Forsythe, who was 70, collapsed on Wednesday night and died yesterday in Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital. Tributes to him dwelt on his record as an assiduous MP.

His party leader, David Trimble, said: "In his quietly effective way he made many friends for Northern Ireland and for Ulster Unionism. He was an excellent colleague to work with and I will ... miss his friendly manner and good advice."

In policy terms, however, Mr Forsythe's advice to Mr Trimble was to abandon theAgreement and return to a more traditionalist approach.

The Rev Ian Paisley, whose Democratic Unionist Party has aspirations to capture Mr Forsythe's seat, said: "He was dedicated to traditional Unionism, and was very much the same way of thinking as I would have been on many issues."

Mr Forsythe, who had been MP for South Antrim since 1983, had a majority of 16,000 in the last general election, when no Paisleyite candidate stood.

Observers will be watching keenly to see who wins the Ulster Unionist nomination. The choice of a pro-Agreement candidate would in effect make for a mini-referendum on the accord as the by-election is expected to be fought by one of Mr Paisley's most senior lieutenants, Rev William McCrea.

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