By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — Unlike last year’s Assembly elections in Northern Ireland, the European election campaign has been lackluster, with little interest being expressed by the electorate and few posters adorning lampposts.
Voters go to the polls on Thursday, June 10, but counting doesn’t begin until Monday, June 14.
Sinn Féin has been badly hit south of the border by the failure to find the bodies of the so-called "disappeared". Although north of the border it will not be so badly affected, the fiasco cannot help the party’s electoral fortunes, with seemingly acres of newsprint given over to vehement attacks on the IRA.
The SDLP leader, John Hume, is hoping to top the poll for the first time, breaking the Rev. Ian Paisley’s record.
Whereas Sinn Féin is openly asking its supporters to vote SDLP second, Hume’s party is not reciprocating, just asking supporters to vote for a pro-agreement party of their choice second.
Never miss an issue of The Irish Echo
Subscribe to one of our great value packages.
Meanwhile, the Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble said last Wednesday he could end his opposition to the "initial procedural steps" toward the creation of the agreed power-sharing Executive in Northern Ireland, but only if the IRA shows it has "left terrorism behind".
He added, however, that his party would still insist upon the "obligation" of weapons decommissioning to show the IRA’s good intentions. There has been no sign of movement since a deal, brokered three weeks ago, collapsed after Trimble pulled out.
Intensive efforts to break the deadlock must be stepped up in the two remaining weeks after the European elections to meet Prime Minister Tony Blair’s June 30 "absolute" deadline for devolution.
In an article in the Irish Times, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said the weapons decommissioning issue must be resolved — but it should not be exploited by unionists to block political progress.
The battle within unionism in the Euro election campaign has been more strident than any SDLP-Sinn Féin tussle. The various strands of unionism have attacked each other with gusto, with relations between the Ulster Unionists and Paisley’s DUP being particularly acrimonious.