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UUP conference: 46% of delegates surprised the Provo command structure still exists

By Liam Clarke

Published 26/10/2015

Vernon Coaker
Vernon Coaker

Nearly half of UUP activists were surprised to hear the IRA Army Council existed following a Government report last week.

A Belfast Telegraph survey of members showed nearly half (46%) were surprised while the other half (54%) knew already.

About 300 party members attended the conference and we surveyed 50 at random. The main feature to emerge was strong support for party leader Mike Nesbitt and his policies after winning two Westminster seats in the recent general election.

Mr Nesbitt led the party in to opposition this month. A massive 98% of conference attendees thought he was right, none believed he was wrong, and only 2% were undecided about it.

Mr Nesbitt got a stellar approval rating of 96 from members. On a scale of one to five, 90% of delegates gave him the best score of one, 8% gave him two and 2% were unsure. In 2013 only 64% gave him the top score.

On the same reckoning the PSNI got a score of 30, with only 46% giving it a positive rating of one (18%) or two (28%).Those who gave it the lowest score (6%) often mentioned personal run-ins with the police.

More than four in five delegates (82%) expected things to improve here over the next five years. Just one in seven (14%) feared they would deteriorate.

The UUP has a free vote on same-sex marriage but Mr Nesbitt told delegates that those who, like him, still opposed it were "on the wrong side of history".

The survey was taken before his speech, but 56% wanted the law changed to allow it with 44% opposed. This will make Mr Nesbitt feel justified in not pushing the issue too hard now.

There actually seemed to be a decrease in support for abortion. In 2013 we asked UUP delegates if they thought it should be allowed in pregnancies caused by rape or incest - 96% said they would and about the same number (94%) said they would allow it for fatal foetal abnormality. This year a narrower majority (58%) felt the law should be liberalised, with the rest either wanting it made more restrictive (2%) or kept the same (40%).

Despite the backing for the move to the opposition benches there was support for devolution. Several delegates told the students conducting the survey that they would like to see the UUP being able to form a Government in voluntary coalition with other parties. Seventy-four per cent wanted devolution to continue but a quarter (26%) preferred direct rule from London.

When it came to forming a Government we asked delegates to indicate which parties would be worth talking to about it. They were allowed to tick as many as they wanted.

The only one which got majority support was the SDLP, who, at 70%, were more than twice as popular as the DUP (34%). Alliance also scored slightly higher than the DUP with 38%.

Others came a long way behind. Twenty per cent would stay in opposition for the next term. Roughly a quarter would consider power sharing with the TUV (24%), Ukip (26%) or the Greens (28%).

Least popular of all was Sinn Fein, which only 10% would consider. However, a number said their view could change if they were convinced the IRA had disbanded.

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