Women's Coalition urge Irish 'yes' vote

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THE Northern Ireland Women's Coalition yesterday made an impassioned plea for a "yes" vote in the coming referendum, and also announced its intention to field candidates in the subsequent elections for a new Assembly.

The non-Sectarian group, founded two years ago by two women - one Catholic, one Protestant - went on to achieve international acclaim for its role in the peace talks, with Senator George Mitchell saying the agreement would not have been possible without them.

The co-founders of the Coalition, Monica McWilliams, a social scientist, and Pearl Sagar, a social worker, are expected to be among the candidates who will stand at the election due to be held following the referendum on 22 May.

Many observers expected the group would be wound up after the Stormont accord was reached. Instead, it has doubled its membership to 500,with support increasing by the day.

However, entering the political arena has led to problems. Yesterday, the movement's headquarters received a stream of insulting and sexist telephone calls from detractors stating the women should know their place.

More importantly, it faces serious financial problems. The organisation had received a grant in the past from a trust for its work in the education and empowerment of women. But electoral laws prohibit receiving such aid for political work.

Two men were the victims of punishment shootings in Belfast. At around 10.30 on Thursday evening a 26-year-old man was abducted at a Loyalist area in the north of the City and shot in the right leg. An hour later a 38-year-old man was shot on both knees and both ankles in Republican West Belfast. Both the men were yesterday recovering in hospital, and police sources blamed paramilitaries for the shootings.