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Editorial New challenge to deal

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

On June 10, Irish voters in the Republic and the North go to the polls to pick MPs for the European parliament in Brussels. Usually, Euro elections are greeted with a shrug, as being of only marginal interest. The bureaucratic world of the European Union and its denizens seem too remote from ordinary people to inspire electoral excitement. This time, however, it is different.

As the fate the Good Friday peace agreement hangs in the balance, the rejectionists and No men on the Unionist side have once more raised their banner in an attempt to overturn last year’s overwhelming vote in favor of the settlement. And they are employing crude scare tactics to do it. Robert McCartney of the United Kingdom Unionist Party is running with a poster showing Martin McGuinness and asking if people want to see their children’s education in this man’s hands. McGuinness, it was rumored, had been tipped to take the post of education minister in the new, but still unformed power-sharing executive. The Rev. Ian Paisley is calling the election a "last chance" to save Ulster.

There are real dangers of an upset North of the border. Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble’s candidate, Jim Nicholson, weakened by scandal, is fighting to keep his seat. Sinn Fein, in the meantime, is itself hoping to stage an upset and return its candidate, Mitchel McLaughlin, giving nationalists two out of the three seats that are up for grabs. A badly split Unionist vote has encouraged Sinn Fein strategists to believe they can do it, though most objective pundits believe they have only an outside chance.

What is most important is that the people of the North make a strong restatement of their previous faith in the April 1998 settlement. Anything less will be seen as proof that the No men have won. It would make further progress, especially on the Unionist side, next to impossible.

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