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Northern Ireland Time Line

  Peace Backers to Lead N. Ireland Assembly

By T. R. Reid
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, June 28 1998; Page A25

The "Big Man" did the talking, as usual, but the quiet men were the winners.

Final results in the election for the new Northern Ireland Assembly showed that backers of the Good Friday agreement, designed to bring peace to this war-torn British province, will have a controlling majority in the governing body.

The results marked a clear defeat for the most outspoken opponent of the peace plan, the Rev. Ian Paisley, a bear of a man with a bullhorn of a voice who is known to his supporters in Belfast's Protestant community as the "Big Man."

Although backing for Paisley personally was strong enough to win assembly seats for himself and son Ian Paisley Jr., support was limited for others in the opposition camp. They won just 28 of 108 seats. That number is key, because 30 votes will be required in the new Assembly to sustain a filibuster and block action.

The big winners were two of Paisley's arch-rivals: David Trimble, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, and John Hume, head of the Social Democratic and Labor Party.

Trimble's party is the largest among Northern Ireland's "unionists" -- those who want to retain the political union with Britain. Hume's party is primarily composed of "nationalists" -- those who want to break the tie and form a single nation with the Republic of Ireland.

In personal style, both men are quieter and gentler than Paisley. And both are political gamblers, staking their careers on support for the ambitious new peace plan.

As weary vote-counters here finally finished the one-by-one tabulation of 750,000 paper ballots cast in Thursday's election, it was clear the bets had paid off.

Trimble's party captured 28 seats in the Assembly, and Hume's took 24. Another nationalist party, Sinn Fein, the political arm of the Irish Republican Army, won 18 seats. The Progressive Unionists, a party allied with Trimble, took two seats.

A growing number of Northern Ireland residents no longer place themselves in the traditional sectarian groupings. That trend was reflected in the success of two new "cross-community" parties, both favoring the peace plan. The Alliance Party, headed by John Alderdice, took six seats, and the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition, headed by Monica McWilliams, won two.

As leader of the largest party in the Assembly, Trimble likely will be named to the new post of first minister -- in essence, governor -- of Northern Ireland.

In the opposition bloc of parties opposing the peace agreement, Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party won 20 seats and the U.K. Unionist Party won five. Three independents who appeared to be Paisley allies also won seats.

If the "Big Man," Paisley, was humbled by his side's defeat, you couldn't tell from the steady flow of insults he directed at his adversaries. "Dublin is sick!" he roared to a forest of microphones. "Tony Blair is sick! And the sickest of all is David Trimble!"

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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