Ulster faces `No' vote catastrophe

AN INCREASING Unionist swing towards a "no" vote is holding out the possibility of a disastrous result in next week's referendum on the Northern Ireland peace agreement.

A new opinion poll shows that 45 per cent of Unionists intend to vote no, while only 35 per cent are preparing to vote yes. With the count less than a week away, a further 20 per cent are undecided on whether to back the accord.

Even the declaration of an "unequivocal ceasefire" by the Loyalist Volunteer Force, therenegade grouping which has killed almost a dozen Catholics this year, did little to dispel the gloom in official circles about the referendum prospects.

The LVF said the move, announced by armed and masked men in Portadown, Co Armagh, was to encourage a no vote in the referendum. The suspicion is, however, that it may have been prompted not by subtle political calculations but because the two dozen LVF prisoners are anxious to benefit from the early releases only available to inmates whose organisations have ceasefires.

Unless there is a huge swing in the opposite direction, the Irish Times opinion poll figures indicate an indecisive result in Friday's vote. While they point to a yes majority in the northern poll, if a majority of Protestants vote against, it would rob the vote of much of its political authority and leave it vulnerable to attack from the Reverend Ian Paisley and his anti-agreement camp.

Jeffrey Donaldson, one of David Trimble's Unionist MPs, delivered another blow to the Government by announcing that despite extensive contact with Tony Blair he is unable to support the agreement.

Mr Blair is planning a third visit to Northern Ireland next week in a final effort to raise support among the wavering Unionists for a "yes" vote.

Mr Blair's decision to add a third tour of the province on the eve of Thursday's poll underlines the anxieties at Downing Street over the failure to win over Unionists who have yet to decide how to vote.

The reason cited by most of those opposing the agreement was their objection to the early release of paramilitary prisoners. Their anxieties were reinforced by the presence at a Belfast rally of convicted Milltown Cemetery murderer Michael Stone. Indeed, embarrassingly for the Government, Stone's appearance at Ulster Hall coincided and overshadowed the Prime Minister's second visit to Belfast which was meant to give a fillip to the yes vote.

Yesterday, Mr Blair spoke of public "revulsion" at the appearance of Stone, who was on temporary leave from prison whilst serving a life sentence for six murders and four attempted murders. A Downing Street spokesman agreed that it looked "very, very bad" and its timing, on the same evening as the Prime Minister's visit, was "unfortunate to say the least".

While the feeling of pessimism about the success of the accord grew in Ulster it was announced that Tony Blair and the United States president Bill Clinton, in Britain for the G8 Summit of world leaders, were to make a united effort to bolster the peace process. The two men are expected to make an appeal for peace tomorrow.

Paddy Ashdown, the Liberal Democrat leader, and William Hague, the Tory leader, will also make visits to the Province to lend their support to the "yes" campaign, in spite of reservations by leading Tories about the release of prisoners and arrangements for disarming the terrorists.

Sinn Fein warned that the Government's perceived attempts to allay the fears of Unionists by talking tough on decommissioning and the release of prisoners could lead it into political quicksand. Launching its "yes" campaign, chairperson Mitchell McLaughlin said the Government could be trapped by its own rhetoric and "Tony Blair can not allow this to happen". However Sinn Fein did not believe that the Government was moving the goalposts.

The "no" campaigners were increasingly in exultant mood. A senior official of Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party claimed that private soundings showed that those as yet undecided were increasingly drifting into the no camp. He added: "The bubble burst, the yes campaign was built on froth and it is dissolving into nothing."

News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Richard Dawkins dedicated his book 'The Greatest Show on Earth' to Josh Timonen
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Extras
indybest
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Travel
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
travel
Arts and Entertainment
music
Sport
football
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home