Nigel Farage won't back local Ukip-ers on the flag or unionist unity Ukip leader
Controversial Ukip leader Nigel Farage found himself at odds with his own party's representatives on key issues in Northern Ireland as he tried to distance himself from hardline loyalism.
Ukip is best known for its opposition to European integration and anti-immigration policies – but when it came to issues of British identity in Northern Ireland, Mr Farage and his local party had major differences.
Mr Farage made a pre-election trip to Belfast yesterday to meet the first Ukip candidate to stand in a European campaign here.
Ukip is fielding one European candidate here and 22 council candidates – including two recent defectors from the DUP.
Ukip's main platform is pulling out of Europe – a policy shared by the TUV, and to some degree by the DUP. Peter Robinson, the DUP leader, has gone as far as urging his supporters to transfer to Ukip or the UUP, a move Mr Farage declined to reciprocate.
Asked if he would be advising his supporters to transfer to unionists such as the TUV, Mr Farage replied: "We won't, no. We will say to people: 'On your first choice vote for the national party here and be part of something quite exciting. With your second vote use it as your conscience tells you'."
He added: "Don't assume that every single voter who votes for Ukip comes from a hardline Protestant, unionist position.
"Where we have succeeded in England we have done it by drawing from Labour and Conservative, by drawing from across the spectrum, and that is what we are trying to do here in Northern Ireland."
But David McNarry, Ukip's local leader and its only MLA, has often advocated unionist unity.
Asked a similar question, the former Ulster Unionist said: "We are very clear on that – vote for those unionist parties that you believe share the same principles and policies on Europe as Ukip. The DUP and the TUV would be the closest. I think that would cross-pollinate."
Another issue on which they differed was flag-flying. While Mr Farage said the Union flag was very important and should be flown "sometimes, at the very minimum", he demurred when asked about a permanent display at Belfast City Hall.
"There are sensibilities that need to be observed and we all understand that, but flags are very important," he said.
Again, Mr McNarry took a different view: "We are for permanent display in Belfast – we don't think the flag should ever be taken down."
Mr Farage also said he would not be signing a 'victims' contract' drawn up by campaigning group Innocent Victims United and signed by Mr McNarry and Henry Reilly, the Ukip European candidate.
It commits signatories to opposing amnesties for Troubles crimes and not supporting a Maze peace centre if any H-Blocks are retained.
Asked if he would sign it, Mr Farage replied: "No. If Henry wants to sign things in Northern Ireland he can do so. I am the leader of a national party... I am not getting involved in individual campaigns."
Mr McNarry had previously predicted Mr Farage would sign the document. "I have already signed it for him," he said.
Farage on... immigrants and gay marriage
"No party position at all. My deputy leader is a Catholic who is very conservative on the issue. I would be less so. It is a free vote for our representatives."
"You have not seen in Northern Ireland quite the same problems as we have seen in many parts of London and the South East. There are two problems – lack of social housing and exploding house prices, chiefly because of money coming in from Russia or from the Arab states.
"So the crisis in London and the South East is that people whose families have lived for generations in the community can no longer afford to live there, and there isn't the social housing available for them. Does that matter? Yes, I think it does."
Sanya-Jeet Thandi's resignation
Thandi was an Asian member of Ukip who quit on Tuesday after accusing the party of racism.
"She appeared on Channel 4 News last Tuesday in a live debate to say we had the most equitable of race and immigration policies of any of the parties, and a week on she has changed her mind. We haven't changed in a week. I suspect that she has been subject to a great degree of peer pressure."
Social benefits for immigrants in the future
"We want to try and help people who have lived in communities for generations to stay in those communities. They should have a priority. We shouldn't be giving social housing, in-work tax benefits or out-of-work benefits, to people who immediately come into this country."
Immigrants here now
"You can't retrospectively take anything away from someone who was legally entitled to it when they came here."
"In England there is no chance of it being repealed, the debate is about whether the churches are going to be forced to conduct gay marriages. In Northern Ireland, we should not sanction gay marriage until we have broken our link with the European Court of Human Rights and we know we can protect the faith communities. If the faith communities are protected, it is still a redefinition of marriage, but it is something that is probably going to have to happen anyway."