Belfast Telegraph

Ulster Unionists under fire for electoral pact with DUP

By Adrian Rutherford

Mike Nesbitt has been accused of securing a bad deal for the UUP amid mounting criticism over his electoral pact with the DUP.

A single unionist candidate will be fielded in four areas after the parties struck a historic eve-of-poll agreement.

However, there are claims that the DUP - which will run candidates in East Belfast and North Belfast - got the best of the bargain.

The Ulster Unionists are long-shots in both Fermanagh-South Tyrone and Newry and Armagh, where they will run candidates.

Polling expert Gerry Lynch said the likely result was the DUP would take their two seats with the UUP losing out in the others.

"The Ulster Unionists have been completely screwed on this," he said.

"In all likelihood they have got zero seats out of this, whereas the DUP have probably got two seats."

The SDLP has led criticism of the pact, branding it a sectarian carve-up.

The deal was announced on Tuesday evening after weeks of behind-the-scenes talks between the parties.

Gavin Robinson has been given a clear run against the Alliance Party's Naomi Long in East Belfast. Meanwhile, Nigel Dodds' hold on North Belfast now seems more secure.

The UUP will field Tom Elliott in Fermanagh-South Tyrone, which Sinn Fein's Michelle Gildernew won by just four votes in 2010.

Danny Kennedy will run in the mainly nationalist Newry and Armagh constituency.

Mr Lynch said a deal on South Belfast - currently held by SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell - should have been non-negotiable for Mr Nesbitt. "There isn't a cat in hell's chance of them winning Newry and Armagh," he added.

"It hasn't been won by a unionist since 1983, when Duran Duran were in the charts. The unionist vote is less than a third.

"Fermanagh-South Tyrone is possible, but it's not probable.

"Overall it's an appalling deal for the Ulster Unionists. They shouldn't have signed anything which didn't have South Belfast in it."

Ms Long, who ended years of DUP domination in East Belfast at the 2010 election, said the deal "sounded the death knell" for the UUP in the constituency.

But the party hit back in a joint statement from its East Belfast councillors Jim Rodgers and Sonia Copeland. "We can assure Naomi that the Ulster Unionist Party is alive and well and growing in East Belfast," the pair said.

Meanwhile, Ms Gildernew, who holds the smallest majority in the House of Commons, said she would do everything possible to keep Fermanagh-South Tyrone in Sinn Fein hands.

"It comes as no surprise - we have faced this challenge before," she said.

Even though her own party has suggested a nationalist pact, Ms Gildernew added: "I think people want a choice when it comes to deciding who represents them.

"There are lots of people in Fermanagh-South Tyrone, who traditionally would have been a DUP or UUP voter, who chose not to vote for that reason."

Alasdair McDonnell accused the DUP and UUP of acting "shamefully". "The SDLP is absolutely opposed to nakedly sectarian electoral pacts," he said.

"We have consistently argued against such pacts and refuse to put party political interests ahead of the need for reconciliation in our divided society. I am deeply disappointed that the unionist parties have pressed ahead in this shamefully divisive way."

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