Mon, May 02, 2005 - Page 6 News List

N Ireland's hardliners look set to gain in UK poll

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND

Gerry Adams bounded from the parking lot and walked a few blocks with his entourage, shaking hands, patting toddlers and, above all, radiating his staying power.

It has been a turbulent few months for Adams and his party, Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army. First came allegations that the IRA had engineered a US$50 million bank robbery in Belfast in December. Then came accusations that some of its members were involved in the gruesome killing of Robert McCartney in January outside a Belfast pub, and a cover-up. But here, on his expanding political turf, Adams, who recently appealed to the IRA to lay down its arms, seemed scarcely to be feeling the one-two punch.

"There has been a storm around Sinn Fein in recent months," he said, during a brief interview on a bus bench. "But those detractors, naysayers and begrudgers must respect the outcome of the election."

At the same time, Sinn Fein's nemesis, the ardently Protestant Democratic Unionist Party, led by the fiery Reverand Ian Paisley, also appears likely to gain seats, analysts say. It is seizing on Protestant outrage over suspected IRA crimes to appeal to voters who are increasingly opposed to a power-sharing deal with Sinn Fein.

Paisley has said he does not believe the IRA will ever disband.

Victories by the two hard-line parties are likely to harden sectarian divisions and further stall negotiations on the 1998 Good Friday accord. That pact paved the way for power-sharing between Catholics and Protestants.

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