An anti-British candidate today won a special parliamentary election in Northern Ireland in what was seen as a vote of confidence in imprisoned Irish nationalist hunger strikers and a rebuff to the British government, which refuses to concede their demand for political prisoner status.
Owen Carron, whose campaign was devoted to supporting the hunger strikers, was elected to fill the seat left vacant by Provisional Irish Republican Army member Bobby Sands, who was elected to Parliament in April while serving a 14-year sentence in Belfast's Maze Prison for terrorist offenses. Sands died a month later after a 66-day fast.
Carron defeated his Protestant opponent, Kenneth Maginnis of the Official Unionist Party, by 31,278 votes to 29,048, according to today's final count of yesterday's voting in the district of Fermanagh and South Tyrone, on the border with the Irish Republic. Four other candidates trailed far behind.
The prisoners,held for terrorist offenses in the jail's H-shaped blocks, have now shown that they can win two consecutive elections. Critics of the IRA contended that Sands was elected only because Catholic voters had no real alternative -- Sands' only opponent was a Protestant. This was not true of the vote yesterday.
The Catholic majority in the constituency stood solidly behind Carron, who said he would not take his seat in Westminster until the demands of the hunger strikers were met.
The voter turnout was 88.2 percent and Carron's majority of 2,230 was 784 votes larger than the total won by Sands in April.
Carron said after victory that he did not intend to try to persuade the hunger strikers to give up their campaign.
"I'm not here to put pressure on the hunger strikers," he declared. "I support them. I am here to put pressure on the British government."
He told a cheering crowd of supporters that "in spite of massive intimidation from the bully boys, the nationalist people have stood where they have always stood."
Support for Carron grew after the death was announced of a 10th hunger striker, 27-year-old Michael Devine, one hour after voting started yesterday.
Catholics and Protestants alleged voting irregularities and police arrested 27 people for impersonating other voters.
Maginnis charged that the result was a "travesty of democracy."
"A lot more young men are going to die on hunger strike now," he added. "A lot of innocent people are going to die as well. This is a vote for violence . . . ."
The turnout at IRA rallies and funerals of hunger strikers has dropped off markedly lately and today's result seemed likely to give the remaining hunger strikers a boost.