Belfast Telegraph

Opposition parties pile pressure of Sinn Fein and DUP with call to 'vote for change' in Northern Ireland

By Suzanne Breen

The Ulster Unionists, SDLP and Alliance Party have urged the public to come out in force and vote for change in what they hope will be a ground-breaking Assembly election.

The three parties urged against voter apathy and said that people in Northern Ireland had a huge opportunity to transform the political landscape on March 2 if they didn't become bogged down in an "orange versus green" battle.

In a smart move, which could maximise their support, they separately said that after voters had given preference to their candidates, they should transfer to other "progressive parties" which wanted to make Northern Ireland work.

And Mike Nesbitt said that if the UUP didn't emerge as the largest unionist party after the election, it wouldn't join any government at Stormont but would once again go into opposition.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph last night, Mr Nesbitt said that Northern Ireland was now on course for an election which would cost the taxpayer millions of pounds and do nothing to help deliver public services.

"But this election can do good if people come out in large numbers and vote for change," he said.

"People in the UK and in the US got angry and voted for Brexit and Donald Trump.

"People here need to get angry and vote for something different.

"We have had 10 years of the DUP and Sinn Fein in Stormont Castle.

"People must ask themselves, 'Do we want more of that or do we want change?'"

Mr Nesbitt urged his party's voters to transfer to candidates whom "they think will do the right thing and make Northern Ireland work".

While the UUP leader declined to openly urge his party supporters to transfer to the SDLP, that message was clearly implied in his statement.

"Colum Eastwood and I have different politics but we both want Northern Ireland to work," he added.

Mr Nesbitt said that, if the UUP emerged as the largest unionist party after the election, it "would enter negotiations with Sinn Fein or the SDLP - but our strong preference would be to negotiate with the SDLP".

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood told this newspaper that it was time for something new at Stormont.

"Sinn Fein and the DUP don't work together," he said.

"Even when they try to create the facade of working together, they don't get things done.

"We are once again back to the old stop-start politics.

"If people want to make a difference - to end the peace process politics of crisis, collapse and more talks - then they must vote for the parties of the middle ground."

Mr Eastwood said that his party hadn't wanted an election which was "caused by the mess created by the DUP and Sinn Fein".

But it presented the public with a "real opportunity to make politics work".

He said: "People like me wrongly thought that Brexit and Trump wouldn't succeed, but they did.

"I've spoken to people here and they aren't just angry at what has happened at Stormont, they are furious.

"They need to now grasp the opportunity to transform things.

"The tens of thousands of men and women who haven't voted in recent elections need to come out and support change."

Mr Eastwood also declined to directly urge his party's supporters to vote for the other opposition parties, but it was obvious from his appeal.

"My message is vote down the ticket, vote for change," he said.

Alliance leader Naomi Long said that the election could prove a watershed if people voted against the "corruption, cronyism and arrogance" that they had seen at Stormont.

"Those who will try to paint this election as orange and green are trying to manipulate the public based on fear," she said.

"This is a huge opportunity for Northern Ireland to turn a corner.

"If we re-elect the same people, we will face the same problems but if we resist the temptation to vote out of fear and instead vote in hope - if we use our vote positively - then we can end carve-up politics and deliver genuine power-sharing."

Mrs Long added: "If the public vote for Alliance and transfer to other progressive parties, we can not only change the political landscape but we can elect people who will ado the job of delivering progress for the people."

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