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Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness dismiss referendum call

By Noel McAdam

Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness have both poured cold water on Ulster Unionist leadership candidate Mike Nesbitt’s proposal for a referendum on an opposition at Stormont.

Mr Nesbitt made the suggestion after his rival for the position, John McCallister, said his first act as leader would be to announce that the UUP would go into opposition — despite no provision in the Agreement for the move.

Speaking during an investment trip to Washington, First Minister Mr Robinson dismissed Mr Nesbitt’s call.

“I have an election mandate. We went to the people, we told them the changes that we wanted to make,” the DUP leader said.

“We don't need any referendum; (voters) have already told us what changes they want.”

Deputy First Minister Mr McGuinness said the proposal would be “treated with the gravest of suspicion” by nationalists.

“I think people would see it as an attempt by someone who is challenging for the leadership of the Ulster Unionist Party to turn the clock back,” added the Sinn Fein MLA.

Mr Nesbitt, the favourite to win, warned that the campaign should not come down to a single issue and cautioned against it becoming a referendum on the UUP quitting the Executive.

Writing in Tuesday’s Belfast Telegraph, Mr McCallister — currently deputy leader of the UUP Assembly group — insisted the party had been allowed to “drift” and “dither” for too long.

He rejected suggestions that he should rule himself out of the race, leaving Mr Nesbitt to be elected unopposed.

“The next two weeks should not be about coronations, or a beauty parade between competing personalities,” he said.

“This leadership election must offer real choice to our party members.

“That choice comes down to what the UUP does about opposition,” he added.

Instead of a unilateral move into unofficial opposition, Mr Nesbitt has called for a referendum on constitutional changes, and said that Secretary of State Owen Paterson should legislate to bring in an official opposition.

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