Belfast Telegraph

Unionist parties' plan for election pact still in limbo

By Deborah McAleese

DUP leader Peter Robinson has acknowledged that time is running out to strike an electoral pact with the UUP to run just one candidate in East Belfast.

And while the parties are still talking, the First Minister said progress has yet to be made on agreeing a joint strategy in both the knife-edge East and South Belfast constituencies.

The DUP is determined to win back East Belfast after losing to Alliance's Naomi Long in the 2010 Westminster election.

Mr Robinson has acknowledged that time was running out to agree a pact with the Ulster Unionists but insisted the parties were still talking.

"It's never over until it's over and we're still talking, so I think we concentrate on trying to get some agreement on key seats," he said.

His party colleague Simon Hamilton said that negotiations were at a critical moment.

"This is a once-in-a -generation, several generations, opportunity for parties.

"Work needs to continue over the next number of days on a few critical seats where we think we can actually maximise a return for unionists," Mr Hamilton told the BBC.

The Belfast Telegraph reported on Saturday that the prospect of a deal in which the DUP runs in East Belfast and the UUP in South Belfast is looking increasingly slim.

However, the UUP is still arguing for it.

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt yesterday accused the DUP of using the media "to try to intimidate me into changing tack" and said the party should "turn off the media microphones" and "get back in the room" to negotiate.

"Without an understanding, the chances of Belfast having no unionist representation after the election are high. That is not acceptable to me, nor should it be to anyone who cherishes the Union," he said.

Mr Nesbitt added: "The fact is that last time the people of our capital city went to the polls, they elected 13 DUP councillors and seven Ulster Unionists. That is a 2:1 split, and that surely signals how we should jointly approach the three winnable Belfast seats in May. If the DUP want to talk we remain ready."

In an interview with today's Belfast Telegraph, Naomi Long spoke of her determination to hang on to her East Belfast seat which she won from Peter Robinson in 2010.

She said she has entered every political contest as "the underdog" but has won her "fair share of elections".

"I'm not preparing myself either to be an MP or not be an MP from May 7. I'm doing the job I have now and I will deal with the consequences of May 7 on May 8," she added.

Mr Robinson is not a candidate for the East Belfast seat this time.

The party is running former Belfast Lord Mayor Gavin Robinson.

A recent Belfast Telegraph poll showed that the DUP was on course to win the seat back in May.

However, our exclusive survey, carried out by polling partners LucidTalk, also found that the Alliance Party is close enough to close the gap.

Conducted in early February, the poll revealed that Gavin Robinson was polling 21.2%, compared with Mrs Long's 17.7%.

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