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Northern Ireland MLAs’ responses to poll ‘undemocratic and unhealthy’

Sinn Fein has slammed the insistence of unionist MLAs that they will refuse to work with a republican First Minister as “anti-democratic and unhealthy.”

Ten out of 18 DUP and Ulster Unionist MLAs polled by the Belfast Telegraph yesterday vowed they would never serve under a Sinn Fein First Minister such as Martin McGuinness.

They included Executive ministers Edwin Poots and Nelson McCausland and former Junior Minister and Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson — all from the DUP — and the Ulster Unionist who chairs the Stormont committee monitoring the First Ministers Office, Danny Kennedy.

The remaining eight contacted by this newspaper either declined to comment or provide a definitive answer. Not one of them said they would be willing to see a unionist take the Deputy First Minister position along with a Sinn Fein First Minister.

Yet it is the divisions within unionism — with a potential three-way split between the DUP, UUP and Jim Allister’s Traditional Unionist Voice at the next Assembly election — which could lead to Sinn Fein becoming the largest Assembly party and entitled to nominate a First Minister. Sinn Fein MLA Barry McElduff said: “A lot has been said about the outcome of the next Assembly election but I think it is anti-democratic and unhealthy for the body politic if people are saying they could not live with the outcome of an election.

“I would like to see a more mature and confident unionism which pays regard to the most basic fundamental principles of democracy, the outcome of elections.”

But the Mid-Ulster member, who chairs the committee which scrutinises Sports, Arts and Culture Minister Mr McCausland, said: “I don’t think this should be allowed to gain currency as the accepted wisdom, I don’t think it should be accepted that people are all the same.”

A spokesman for the SDLP said the party was not going to get involved in the controversy.

The Telegraph straw poll was conducted after it emerged two separate ‘summits’ have been held in the last two months to discuss the prospect of the two main parties working more closely together.

Last week it was revealed Orange Order chiefs invited the DUP and Ulster Unionists to talks at its headquarters, chaired by Grand Master Robert Saulters, and that came after disclosures the two parties also participated in a Sunday session at Hatfield House in England under the auspices of the Conservatives.

One of the main driving forces behind the parallel, but apparently unconnected discussions, was the fear of Sinn Fein becoming the largest single party with the unionist vote further fragmented by the TUV and entitled to take the First Minister position.

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