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Election: Peter Robinson scornful of Sinn Fein appeal to unionist voters over austerity

By Rebecca Black

DUP leader Peter Robinson has poured scorn on an appeal by Sinn Fein for unionist votes, claiming the republican party was "irrelevant" at Westminster.

He was reacting after Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams launched an appeal for working class unionists to vote for his party, claiming only it will fight austerity.

He urged: "Voting unionist makes no sense for those who cannot afford these cuts. On Thursday I would appeal to unionist voters to reflect on the fact that the unionist parties do not represent their economic interests."

Mr Robinson hit back, pointing out that only a few months ago Mr Adams "was calling unionists 'b***ards', and proclaiming how he was going to break them".

"Indeed, it is Sinn Fein's illogical stance on welfare reform which is costing our front line services £2m per week in welfare penalties," he said.

The DUP leader said a vote for Sinn Fein on Thursday was a "wasted vote".

"MPs from Northern Ireland could decide who the next Prime Minister is but Sinn Fein will be irrelevant," he said.

"Their MPs won't even matter in the post-election arithmetic.

"This election is about who has the plan to deliver for Northern Ireland in a hung parliament.

"We are the only party with a five-point plan to get the best deal for the people we represent.

"To deliver our plan we need a strong team of DUP MPs returned to Westminster to negotiate a good deal for Northern Ireland.

"Whilst Sinn Fein won't turn up, other Northern Ireland parties won't be big enough to matter and the likes of the Alliance and SDLP are already signed up to support the Liberal Democrats and Labour."

However, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said the DUP was indulging in "wishful thinking" if its members thought they could be kingmakers in a hung parliament.

Mr McGuinness told Sky News's Murnaghan programme: "My view is that the formation of the next government in Westminster will revolve around the Conservatives, Labour Party, Liberal Democrats and the SNP; and of course the Scottish nationalists under Nicola Sturgeon are in a much more powerful position than any of the parties here."

The Deputy First Minister was also rapped after describing Westminster as a "retirement home" for politicians.

He made the comments just days before voters prepared to go to the polls to elect MPs to the House of Commons.

Sinn Fein is hoping to make a number of gains this week, most notably for Gerry Kelly to topple the DUP's Nigel Dodds in North Belfast, and also to win Upper Bann and South Belfast.

Mr McGuinness made the comment to the Fermanagh newspaper the Impartial Reporter.

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt criticised the comment, and queried whether that was how the senior Sinn Fein man considers his party's 18 Westminster candidates.

He asked whether Mr McGuinness considered Michelle Gildernew as "long-term retired from politics", and whether South Down candidate Chris Hazzard (30) was being "pensioned off".

Mr Nesbitt stressed that Westminster was "not a retirement home", and "nor should it be a cash cow" for expenses.

"If the unionist vote turns out this time, I am confident the people of Fermanagh/ South Tyrone will elect Tom Elliott on May 7 and once again benefit from a Member of Parliament who will work hard, including the duty to put in the unglamorous long hours on the green benches, for the benefit of all the people," he said.

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