SDLP candidate set to benefit from Nesbitt's largesse won't be reciprocating
The SDLP candidate who UUP leader Mike Nesbitt has pledged to give his second preference vote to has not reciprocated the gesture.
Seamas De Faoite is running for the SDLP in East Belfast where Mr Nesbitt lives and where he will cast his vote at the Assembly election next month.
Mr Nesbitt raised eyebrows on Sunday when he revealed he will vote firstly for his own party's candidate Andy Allen, and then for the sole SDLP candidate in the constituency.
However, Mr De Faoite refused to say whether he would vote for the UUP candidate in South Belfast, where he lives and will be voting.
"Much like Mike I'm in a different constituency to where I'm standing, so I'll be voting SDLP 1 and 2 and then transferring down the ballot to change the government," he told the Belfast Telegraph. The statement is the latest blow to Mr Nesbitt, who has been roundly criticised by unionists for his public declaration of support for the SDLP.
DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said other UUP candidates needed to make clear whether they supported their party leader's position, pointing out that the total number of votes for nationalist candidates fell in the last Assembly poll in May.
"There will be many Ulster Unionist Party members who will be dismayed that Mike Nesbitt wishes to reverse that trend through his desire to see nationalist representation in the Assembly increased ahead of other unionists," he added.
TUV leader Jim Allister said: "Giving preferences to nationalists before unionists should not be the business of the leader of a party committed to maintaining the Union."
Sinn Fein's Caral Ní Chuilín also criticised Mr Nesbitt's comments. "Let me remind Mike that unless the institutions operate on the basis of equality and respect, there will be no institutions," she said.
"If we get enough votes, Sinn Fein will be in the Executive in line with the Good Friday Agreement. It is it not up to Mike Nesbitt or the UUP to say who can or cannot be in the Executive. We will be in government.
"The real question is, will the UUP take up a role in the Executive after this election or go back to the comfort of the opposition benches?"
And Mr Nesbitt's generous gesture was not reciprocated by SDLP leader Colum Eastwood.
"We are fighting very hard to retain seats and gain seats and our job as a political party is to get people to vote for us," he said.