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DUP 'tried to scare voters with Sinn Fein claim'

By Noel McAdam

Published 15/05/2015

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt
Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt

The DUP has been accused of attempting to scare voters after admitting it commissioned a poll showing Sinn Fein could seize the Upper Bann seat in last week's general election.

But the party also spurned an Ulster Unionist demand to reveal the identity of the polling company involved.

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said the DUP had been exposed as playing on the fears of a split unionist vote - and argued the poll had failed almost all industry standards.

Now he is to raise the controversy with the Independent Press Standards Organisation.

The poll was published in the Portadown Times just a week before polling day. In the event, Ulster Unionist Jo-Anne Dobson finished just over 2,200 votes behind the DUP's David Simpson, with Sinn Fein's Catherine Seeley in third place with a gap of a further 1,500 votes .

Mr Nesbitt told the Belfast Telegraph: "The DUP ran a negative campaign, based not on the achievements of the incumbent MP over the last 10 years, but on promoting the fear that a vote for Jo-Anne Dobson would split the unionist vote and let Sinn Fein through the middle.

"This self-styled poll bolstered that narrative, which had no foundation in truth, as the general election results proved, with Sinn Fein again finishing in third place in Upper Bann."

The DUP, however, said it regularly commissioned polling which was fully compliant with professional industry standards.

"In terms of Sinn Fein coming second or third, the fact remains that Sinn Fein is a growing threat in Upper Bann... an evenly split unionist vote opens the real danger of Sinn Fein slipping through the middle," a statement said.

"If the nightmare situation had happened (SF winning the seat) then we would have been regretting the fact that we ignored the warning signs and with no way of rectifying the situation for five years."

Mr Nesbitt, whose party won two of the province's 18 Westminster seats - South Antrim and Fermanagh and South Tyrone - also said it was "outrageous" that the newspaper published the poll.

"Polling industry standards set by the British Polling Council (BPC) encourage full disclosure including: who commissioned the poll, the dates the poll was conducted, and the methodology used," he said.

"The poll failed on almost every key element of good practice, (and) we do not even know if it is a member of the British Polling Council.

"It is my clear assessment that the Portadown Times has breached its obligations under the Editors' Code of Conduct, not least the requirement to 'maintain the highest possible professional standards' and (we are) bringing the matter to the attention of the Independent Press Standards Organisation."

Portadown Times editor Alistair Bushe said the polling company had wanted to remain anonymous and its wishes had been respected. "It was commissioned by the DUP but we have no doubts or misgivings about its authenticity and we also continue to respect the organisation's wish to remain anonymous," he added.

"The poll predicted that Catherine Seeley of Sinn Fein, instead of Mrs Dobson, would finish second to David Simpson, but if this general election has told us one thing, it's that polling is not an exact science."

Mr Nesbitt also challenged Mr Simpson to withdraw allegations that UUP members verbally abused his children during the general election campaign.

The alleged abuse involving Mr Simpson's adopted children is alleged to have come from self-styled UUP supporters on social media. The row started minutes after his victory was declared.

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