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Northern Ireland parties set out stalls one last time in TV debate as poll looms

By Noel McAdam

Published 03/05/2016

Broadcast: Martin McGuinness
Broadcast: Martin McGuinness

The five main party leaders will fire their final salvoes in a second television debate tonight just 36 hours before the polls open.

The smaller, non-Executive parties are also being given an opportunity to put their case in a programme to be broadcast immediately after the main debate on BBC 1 NI tonight (8pm).

The DUP's Arlene Foster; Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness; the UUP's Mike Nesbitt; the SDLP's Colum Eastwood, and Alliance's David Ford will make one final media push to maximise their votes against a backdrop of fears for a low turnout in Thursday's election.

There is increasing speculation that some of the counts across the 18 constituencies could go long into Saturday, and perhaps may even need to resume next Monday.

More: Nesbitt slams 'despicable' DUP over letter hyping 'bad old days'

This is because the contests in constituencies including South Belfast, North Belfast, Upper Bann, Foyle and South Down are expected to be tight, particularly for the last few seats.

As polling day loomed, a former DUP member standing for the Ulster Unionists in Lagan Valley accused her old party of "dog whistle" politics.

Lisburn councillor Jenny Palmer left the DUP following a row over her being pressured by a party special adviser (Spad) to change her vote on the Housing Executive board to extend contracts for discredited construction firm Red Sky.

She was told by the Spad "the party comes first - you do as you are told".

The Housing Executive cancelled the contracts and Red Sky went into administration in 2011.

Yesterday she claimed election literature being used by the DUP revealed "the party comes first" was still the message.

DUP letters warn "a vote for anyone other than your DUP candidate would weaken and divide the pro-Union vote" - allowing Martin McGuinness to become First Minister.

Mrs Palmer added: "How typically arrogant from the DUP. From Spads to their new leader the message is the same - the party comes first. They may have a new leader, but it's still the same old DUP.

"The electorate are not going to allow themselves to be fooled by dog whistle politics. This wouldn't even be discussed if the DUP hadn't dropped the ball at St Andrews."

That was a reference to legislation flowing from St Andrews which ensured the First Minister would be from the biggest party.

The DUP said: "This election is very close. The party with the most seats will have the most influence. That party will also choose the next First Minister."

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