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."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Collections Agent

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Negotiator - OTE £23,000

£13500 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning, Bolton base...

Recruitment Genius: Client Account Executive

£23000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Client Account Executive is r...

Recruitment Genius: Telemarketing Executive

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Full Time position available now at a growing...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future