Belfast Telegraph

Arlene Foster brands Nesbitt's vote SDLP call 'shameful'

By Noel McAdam

Mike Nesbitt's plan to transfer his second preference vote to the SDLP could cost unionists the Assembly election, DUP leader Arlene Foster has claimed.

The former First Minister also sounded alarm bells that the British Government could give concessions to Sinn Fein during negotiations to restore the Executive.

But she insisted if republicans increased their demands in the aftermath of the March 2 poll, the DUP would stack up its list of issues "in proportion".

Launching the party's manifesto, an add-on paper to the document it unveiled last May, Mrs Foster labelled the call by the Ulster Unionist leader to vote SDLP "inexplicable, sad and shameful".

She warned there will be constituencies where DUP and Sinn Fein candidates would be slugging it out for the last seat after each constituency was cut from six MLAs to five.

She argued: "The transfers of eliminated Ulster Unionist candidates will be the crucial and deciding factor.

"So, even if the DUP were to have a small first preference vote lead over Sinn Fein, it could well be that Mike Nesbitt's transfer advice could cost unionism the election."

The DUP Manifesto 2017 document also warned of the "danger" the Government could be prepared to compromise with Sinn Fein on the basis of its election mandate.

"This must not be allowed to happen," it said.

Mrs Foster said the SDLP "will do well" to win 10 seats in the Assembly.

And even if the UUP wins every seat where it has a chance, it would not have a higher total of MLAs than the republican party, she added.

"They are not running to win - the UUP are now running to stop the DUP from winning," she claimed.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams came in for no less than 12 mentions in a less than 3,000-word address.

However, the DUP leader has denied using the Louth TD as a "bogeyman figure".

But Mrs Foster believes Mr Adams is back in control of Sinn Fein now that Michelle O'Neill is the party's Northern leader, and she warned that all recent polling shows the election will be "neck and neck" between the DUP and Sinn Fein.

"The reality is that every vote for another unionist party is a vote which is lost in the battle to make sure that Sinn Fein does not win this election," she said.

She also stressed she will lead the DUP team in the negotiations after this "unnecessary and, frankly, damaging election".

Apart from taking the First Minister's post, she said a Sinn Fein surge would mean the "persecution" of security force members, demands for a new border poll, a possible republican Justice Minister and a "hugely significant worldwide propaganda boost".

Ulster Unionist Upper Bann candidate Doug Beattie accused her of scaremongering.

"The DUP are clearly desperate and are attempting to whip the unionist electorate into a state of perpetual fear," he said.

"That's why they refused to answer any questions at their manifesto launch."

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