Belfast Telegraph

UUP's Dobson says Nesbitt lost her seat - Arlene Foster 'helped nationalist cause'

By Stephanie Bell

Former Ulster Unionist MLA Jo-Anne Dobson has blamed outgoing party leader Mike Nesbitt and DUP chief Arlene Foster for her losing her Assembly seat.

In the run-up to last week's snap election Mr Nesbitt controversially revealed that he planned to give his second preference - after voting for his own party - to the SDLP.

Mrs Dobson claimed that it served as a "get-out-of-jail-free" card for the UUP's rivals in the DUP.

In an interview in today's Belfast Telegraph, she claimed it came as a shock to UUP members, and welcomed Mr Nesbitt's decision to stand aside as leader.

"I think he was right to stand down. His comments about transferring his vote to the SDLP were not helpful - especially without consulting party members and just two weeks out from an election," she said.

"I've never seen the DUP jump on a get-out-of-jail-free card as quickly as they did with that. It changed the whole dynamics. And, while I appreciate what he was trying to do, it wasn't how it was picked up by voters on the doorstep."

Mrs Dobson also criticised her party's vote management in the Upper Bann constituency. She polled 5,132 votes - just 335 fewer than her UUP running mate Doug Beattie, who was elected.

"Usually we have three people running and there are three main towns in the constituency - Banbridge, Lurgan and Poradown," she said.

"This time we had only two and it was decided to split it up, so that Doug Beattie had two towns - Portadown and Lurgan - and I had one, which was Banbridge. We were trying to strike a balance, but that balance was a bit off on this occasion and I think that is something, as a party, that we need to look at in the future."

However, she blamed Mrs Foster for the overall hit that unionists took across Northern Ireland.

Unionist parties lost some 16 seats, which has put non-unionist parties in the majority for the first time at Stormont.

"Arlene Foster has done more in my living memory against unionism by not stepping aside," she said.

"The cost has been 16 unionist seats. One woman has also been responsible for five hard-working, good women losing their seats. She has weakened unionism and helped the Irish nationalist cause.

"She projected an atmosphere of fear during the election.

"The election was a hammer-blow result for unionists - why couldn't Arlene Foster have just stepped aside?"

Mrs Dobson said she had received thousands of messages of support from constituents and party colleagues in the past week. She revealed that she already had a number of job offers, which she was considering, although it was her work as an MLA where her heart still lay.

"I was shocked and I'm devastated. It is a job I gave 24/7 to and a job I was so honoured to do and loved," she added.

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