DUP leader claims it is 'dangerous' to transfer votes to nationalists
The DUP leader was addressing party members in Newry and Armagh
Arlene Foster has said it is "dangerous" to encourage unionists to share their vote with nationalist candidates as it would increase the chance of a border poll.
The DUP leader was referring to the Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt, who said he intended to transfer his second preference vote to the SDLP.
In a speech for party members in Newry and Armagh, the DUP leader also dismissed any chance of the SDLP and UUP causing an upset in the election.
The comments come just one day after Mrs Foster also clashed with Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill during a live debate on UTV, after Mrs O'Neill said she wouldn't support the DUP leader in a new executive.
Addressing her party colleagues on Friday, February 17 Mrs Foster commented: “It is dangerous to advocate supporting candidates who are Pro-United Ireland above preferences for fellow unionists. The greater the number of nationalist MLAs elected the stronger the push will be for a Border Poll."
She added that neither the UUP or SDLP had even put up enough candidates to even win the election.
"The truth is a vote for Mike means you will get Mike and Sinn Fein not Mike and the SDLP. Sinn Fein would love to be negotiating with Mike Nesbitt. Even his own supporters fear that outcome," she said.
"It is critical that unionism enters these negotiations from a position of strength."
Mrs Foster claimed that before the DUP took power in 2003, unionists had often been "second best" in negotiations with Sinn Fein.
She pointed to the DUP's handling of the Stormont House Agreement and the Fresh Start Agreement as a "significant step forward for unionism."
"The reality is that it is because of Sinn Fein’s inability to deal with the DUP in negotiations that they have precipitated a crisis in which they will wish to deal directly with the UK government," she said.
That is why it is so important that the DUP wins a strong mandate to ensure that the government do not give in to Sinn Fein’s demands."
Both Mrs Foster and Mrs O'Neill have already indicated post-election negotiations could be combative if the DUP and Sinn Fein are again elected as the two largest parties.
During the UTV debate Mrs O'Neill insisted she would not go into government with Mrs Foster until a public inquiry into the botched Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme was completed.
She said DUP "arrogance, contempt and serious allegations of corruption around the RHI scandal" had forced next month's snap election.
However, Mrs Foster insisted Sinn Fein would not decide who led the DUP and called the election "an attempt by Gerry Adams to push forward his radical agenda."
The SDLP leader Colum Eastwood told voters to expect protracted negotiations after the election if the DUP and Sinn Fein were returned to power.
"But if you vote for other people, we have the opportunity to form a government, no matter how difficult all these issues are," he said.
There are people who want to work together, are willing to work together, and have proven they can work together to get over some of these humps," he said.
Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt commented that Sinn Fein and the DUP "really don't want to share power, but only do it because there is a legislative duty on them to do so".
He added: "We as the Ulster Unionist Party would be willing partners, understanding the only way to move Northern Ireland forward is to work with people with whom you have differences."
One of the more quotable moments of the debate belonged to the Alliance Party leader Naomi Long who called the Ulster Unionists the "Lothario of Northern Ireland politics" due to their previous willingness to strike up electoral pacts with other parties.