Belfast Telegraph

Vote for UUP will strengthen Union, says leader Swann as he ridicules border poll talk

By Noel McAdam

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann has urged unionists not to coalesce around the DUP following Sinn Fein's resurgence in the Assembly election.

The recently-elected party chief argued the combined votes of both the UUP and the DUP would send a stronger pro-Union message.

His call came after the DUP asked unionists who usually vote for others to support Arlene Foster this time, following Sinn Fein's performance in the March Assembly election in which it came in just 1,200 votes behind the DUP.

But launching his party's manifesto yesterday, Mr Swann said: "It's quite simple. It is about the quality of representation."

The DUP stood aside to give incumbent UUP candidate Tom Elliott a stronger chance of holding the Fermanagh and South Tyrone seat in the face of a strong Sinn Fein challenge from Michelle Gildernew.

But the DUP is also targeting the UUP's second outgoing MP Danny Kinahan in South Antrim, where it believes its standard-bearer Paul Girvan can seize back the seat formerly held by the Rev William McCrea.

Reacting to the DUP's "wake-up call" for unionism in the aftermath of the last Stormont election, Mr Swann argued the UUP was better placed to help create a stronger Union that "works for everyone".

"There needs to be a real wake-up call for all of Northern Ireland that we need to create a Union for everyone, where everyone is given respect," he said.

The restoration of Stormont and an Executive is "still within our grasp", Mr Swann said, but it was "outrageous that Northern Ireland has been left drifting without a government now for five months".

And he pointed the finger directly at republicans, because it was them "and only them, that stand in the way of a new Executive being formed".

Mr Swann said "shame" on Sinn Fein Stormont leader and former Health Minister Michelle O'Neill for putting the interests of her party before patients. "While others have been preaching about respect and supposedly standing up to the Tories, the reality is that the crisis in public services has been deepening," he said.

Mr Swann dismissed increasing calls from Sinn Fein and the SDLP for a border poll on support for a united Ireland as "nonsense" and argued it would "sectarianise" every future election.

He also warned that demands for "special status" for Northern Ireland as the UK leaves the European Union amounted to an attempt to create a "united Ireland by the back door".

"Those who promote 'special status' are calling for the break-up of the United Kingdom. There can be no border up the middle of the Irish Sea. There can be no passport checks for citizens of Northern Ireland arriving in Cairnryan or Heathrow," he said.

The concept of special status brought with it "all sorts of connotations that leave us outside the United Kingdom rather than inside" and this "sets us adrift in what it means to be part of the Union".

"Whether people voted Remain or Leave, the reality now is we will be exiting the European Union. Whilst others only care about getting any deal, we want the best deal," he said. The manifesto calls for the province's five health trusts to be merged into a single body with an independent chief executive of the NHS in Northern Ireland.

In terms of talks to restore devolution, the UUP also vowed to "vehemently oppose efforts to rewrite the reality of the past and tackle unfair aspersions cast against legitimate actions of our security forces".

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