Anxious wait for North's Euro election results

The British government was today anxiously awaiting the results of Northern Ireland’s European election poll, which will be declared tomorrow, to assess the impact on efforts to revive devolution.

The British government was today anxiously awaiting the results of Northern Ireland’s European election poll, which will be declared tomorrow, to assess the impact on efforts to revive devolution.

But with the two extremes of Ulster politics fighting it out for top spot, hope of a swift breakthrough is sparse.

The Rev Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Féin are expected to fill the first two seats with the Ulster Unionists and SDLP fighting it out for the third.

A first European seat for Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland would be the perfect end for them to a weekend which has seen substantial gains for the party across the border.

Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy gets the parties together again for two days on Tuesday for a fresh round of talks reviewing the Good Friday Agreement in his effort to find a way of restoring power sharing devolution to Stormont.

However with the traditional summer marching season swiftly approaching – and with it the inevitable tensions – it is likely to be autumn before a full-blooded drive for agreement gets under way.

The Northern Ireland Office said said Mr Murphy would be studying the “mood music” after the results this week.

While an early summit involving Tony Blair, Bertie Ahern and the parties has not been ruled out, it is more likely it will take place in the autumn.

Before the talking takes place all eyes will be on Belfast’s King’s Hall tomorrow where the votes will be counted.

With the DUP’s Jim Allister and Sinn Féin’s Bairbre de Brun expected to fill the first two seats it will be left for Ulster Unionist Jim Nicholson and the SDLP’s Martin Morgan to scrap for the final seat.

Mr Nicholson has been an MEP for 15 years, while Mr Morgan, Belfast Lord Mayor until earlier this month, is bidding to retain the seat held by former SDLP leader John Hume.

For either party to fail will mean it has no representation in Strasbourg for the first time since the European Parliament first sat in 1979.

Ballot papers were verified on Friday and it emerged voting had been strongest in Westminster constituencies with republican MPs – with overall turnout estimated by the parties to be around 51% – typical of European elections in Northern Ireland but down on four years ago.

Tally men at the verification of ballots reported turnouts of 65% – 66% in the Mid Ulster and Fermanagh and South Tyrone constituencies held by Sinn Féin MP’s Martin McGuinness and Michelle Gildernew.

In contrast, unionist constituencies such as North Down and Strangford reported poor turn-outs of 38% and 39.9% respectively.

Away from the big four, candidates standing were independent John Gilliland, Socialist Environmental Alliance candidate Eamonn McCann and the Green Party’s Lindsay Whitcroft.

The level of support for Mr Gilliland, until recently the president of the Ulster Farmers Union, could be critical to the battle between Jim Nicholson and Martin Morgan. He could well takes votes from the rural farming community which Mr Nicholson would have expected to go his way in previous elections.

As soon as the results are known attention will turn to the resumed talks at Stormont.

The Rev Ian Paisley said he was “ready to get down to business“, but said there would be “no compromise” over sharing power with Sinn Féin.

He said he would not “tolerate the placing of terrorists at the heart of government".

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