Belfast Telegraph

Haass proposals are simply a starting point for the UUP

Cagey delegates adopt wait-and-see attitude to diplomat's initiative

BY LIAM CLARKE

If Richard Haass thinks he will get automatic buy-in for his proposals in the new year, he may be disappointed in the Ulster Unionist Party.

Less than a seventh of party members surveyed at the UUP annual conference on Saturday believed his recommendations should be accepted, with the vast majority regarding them as no more than a basis for discussion.

Dr Haass, a former US diplomat, returns next week to chair all-party talks on unresolved issues including parading, flags and dealing with the past. He has until January to report.

When we asked 50 attendees – out of a total of over 300 at the UUP conference – if Haass's recommendations should be "accepted in full" or "just be a basis for further discussion", 78% plumped for the second option. Some 12% were committed to accepting whatever was agreed and 10% didn't know.

The survey also showed delegates opposed to electoral co-operation with the DUP, and far more liberal than DUP ministers on issues like abortion and blood donations by gay men.

The result is interesting after the UUP and DUP sunk their differences earlier this year to back a joint candidate, Nigel Lutton, who failed to win the Mid Ulster Westminster by election. A total of 70% of delegates believed there should be no more joint candidates, with just over a quarter (26%) in support.

There was also massive suspicion of Peter Robinson, the DUP leader, with not a single delegate saying they would trust his word, on a par with the zero trust for Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein.

Underlining the point, nearly three-quarters of delegates declined to make a choice when asked whether they felt closer to the DUP (16%) or NI21, the liberal unionist party which broke away from the UUP this year, which scored 10%. When asked to choose, one 'undecided' said he would rather back Sinn Fein.

We asked those surveyed if they trusted six other public figures. If asked what was meant by trust, students carrying out the survey replied "would you take this person's word if you had no other evidence either way?"

Jim Allister, the hardline TUV leader, scored highest at 86%. Alasdair McDonnell, the SDLP leader, was trusted by nearly half of delegates (48%). Basil McCrea, the NI21 leader, polled 2% and was only marginally ahead of Mr Robinson's duck egg score.

David Ford of Alliance got 12% and Theresa Villiers, the Secretary of Stare, 24%. Matt Baggott, the PSNI Chief Constable, got 40%.

However, when delegates were asked to rate police performance the force's net approval rating was 26%. Both are well ahead of the 13% Mr Baggott scored in our last full opinion poll in September, but could be considered low given that the sample was all unionists.

Party members gave their leader Mike Nesbitt a net approval rating of 94%, but just 64% gave him top marks out of five.

Abortion and blood donations by gay men are issues on which the UUP allows a free vote. Our survey suggests that Mr Nesbitt could be more liberal as some 96% wanted the lifetime ban on gay men giving blood scrapped, with similar majorities wanting to allow abortion in cases of foetal abnormality (94%), rape or incest (96%), and to save the mother's life (100%). Only 4% regarded abortion as murder and close to half (44%) supported the most liberal option of granting a termination to any woman who chooses it after being counselled on alternatives.

The survey of 50 party members was carried out in association with LucidTalk polling. Interviews were conducted by Conor Meikleham and Stephen Crawford, both journalism students at Belfast Metropolitan College.

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