N.Ireland's main parties advance in peaceful poll

8th May 2011, Comments 0 comments

Northern Irish voters strongly backed the two main Catholic and Protestant parties that share power in the province's devolved legislature, in elections that boosted the peace process, results showed Sunday.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the main Protestant political group in the British province, and Sinn Fein, the main Catholic republican party, both saw their number of seats increase in elections to the Stormont assembly.

The election to the cross-community legislature passed off peacefully amid heightened security following a string of attacks in the run-up to the polls blamed on dissident republicans trying to derail the peace process.

The assembly is a keystone of the 1998 peace accords that largely ended the province's three decades of violence, known as The Troubles, which pitted Catholic republicans seeking to break away from the United Kingdom against Protestant unionists.

In a remarkable political comeback, DUP leader Peter Robinson was resoundingly reelected and will return as first minister despite having his career written off last year after a sex scandal involving his wife.

He dedicated his victory to the memory of a Catholic police officer killed in a car bomb attack in Omagh on April 2, as the election campaign got under way.

"I only want to say that I want to dedicate this victory to the memory of young Ronan Kerr, a young man who at 25 years of age was blown into eternity by the hands of evil men," said Robinson.

"In the words of his mother, she wanted to ensure that people would come out and support the way forward, peacefully, in Northern Ireland to have a united community, a shared society."

He had lost his seat in the London parliament in the British general elections of 2010 after it emerged in January that year that his wife and former lawmaker, Iris Robinson, had an affair with a teenager.

The DUP increased their number of seats by two to 38, Sinn Fein were up one to 29, while smaller parties took the remaining 41 seats in the legislature.

The vote came after the assembly, set up in 1998, survived its first full, four-year term. It had previously been suspended on several occasions due to disputes between unionists and nationalists.

Voters went to the polls in Northern Ireland on Thursday, but the results were greatly delayed by slow counts.

The poll was on the same day as elections for devolved legislatures in Scotland and Wales and a nationwide referendum in Britain on whether to change the electoral system.

© 2011 AFP

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