Sinn Fein Euro election favourites

Harwich and Manningtree Standard: The arrest of Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams has not affected the party's standing in the polls, it is claimed The arrest of Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams has not affected the party's standing in the polls, it is claimed

Sinn Fein are favourites to top the poll following European elections in Northern Ireland despite Gerry Adams' arrest, an expert commentator said.

The party president has claimed his arrest galvanised republicans' European election campaign.

The Sinn Fein president, 65, was released from Antrim police station a week ago after four days of questioning by detectives about the 1972 murder of Belfast mother-of-10 Jean McConville and other alleged links with the IRA.

Politics professor Richard Wilford from Queen's University Belfast said: "There is no doubt that Sinn Fein will hold the seat in the north and probably top the poll.

"The results won't demonstrate any growth because the Sinn Fein vote has plateaued."

Sinn Fein could take three of the Irish Republic's 11 seats in the European Parliament, a poll suggested, and Martina Anderson is likely to triumph in Northern Ireland.

Professor Wilford added: "I don't think you should construe the improved performance in any way being directly correlated with the arrest of Gerry Adams.

"The electorate north and south are very different and for the southern electorate it is a plague on all the houses of the other major parties because of austerity."

Mrs McConville, a 37-year-old widow, was dragged, screaming, away from her children in the Divis flats in west Belfast by a gang of up to 12 men and women after being wrongly accused of informing to the security forces.

She was interrogated, shot in the back of the head and then secretly buried - becoming one of the "Disappeared" victims of the Troubles. Her body was not found until 2003 on a beach in Co Louth, 50 miles from her home.

Mr Adams' arrest prompted deputy first minister Mr McGuinness to claim that a "dark side" at the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) was behind his detention, an allegation chief constable Matt Baggott and senior commanders have denied.

That claim angered unionists, with Democratic Unionist First Minister Peter Robinson warning if Sinn Fein had not "corrected" its position they should have been put out of Northern Ireland's power-sharing government for failing to support the police.

The uneasy pairing between the DUP and Sinn Fein at Stormont has been united in condemning violence by dissident republicans opposed to the peace process.

But alleged loyalist paramilitary attacks in east Belfast have prompted divisions between Mr Robinson and his deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, with republicans accusing the DUP stalwart of failing to show leadership.

Mr McGuinness has also accused the Conservatives of "cosying up" to the DUP during meetings and insists the British Government should help resolve outstanding peace process issues.

Five-party talks were chaired by former US diplomat Dr Richard Haass around Christmas but broke up without agreement.

Proposals included the creation of a new framework for deciding on the route of contentious parades, when to fly the Union flag from official buildings, and dealing with the impact of 30 years of violence on victims and their families.

One suggestion involved qualified immunity for perpetrators in exchange for information about Troubles killings.

Sinn Fein signed up but the blueprint was not accepted by unionists, despite there being significant agreement on helping victims.

Northern Ireland's Victims Commissioner has said a pension for those severely injured during the Troubles should be implemented immediately.

A previous proposal, during an unrelated review, for a "recognition payment" for all injured during the conflict, including paramilitaries, was furiously rejected by unionists.

Professor Wilford added the issue was toxic for the DUP.

"The DUP start from an exclusivist premise, they wish to exclude those they think don't merit any kind of material recognition whereas Sinn Fein and the SDLP start from an inclusivist premise, that there is no hierarchy.

"They take very polarised views. There is no way that those two positions can be reconciled.

"It is clearly something that has to be addressed, the needs of victims, but it has more to do with trying to develop a set of support systems to get help with psychological needs rather than introducing the red rag of monetary compensation."

He said the unionist vote could be splintered but not shredded by the number of candidates running.

The DUP considered fielding two but decided against it, meaning the party's Diane Dodds and the Ulster Unionists' Jim Nicholson are favourites to be returned to Brussels.

Last time, the hardline Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister, who opposes powersharing with Sinn Fein while sitting in the Northern Ireland Assembly, did well but Professor Wilford doubted he had the same momentum this time.

He warned: "If he exceeds it this is going to be a message that the DUP simply cannot ignore."

He added: "It will sour what is already a fairly toxic atmosphere."

The loyal order marching season traditionally leads to violence in a few isolated hotspots where Catholics and Protestants live in close proximity and one side protests against the parades.

The causes of annual riots surrounding a march in Ardoyne in North Belfast every July have not been resolved politically.

Irish deputy prime minister, or Tanaiste, Eamon Gilmore has said there is a window of time between the end of the elections and the start of the marching season in which progress could be made, and t hat time is rapidly approaching.

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