Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

An electoral pact can win back seats for unionism

Blogger Owen Polley spelt out his views on Ulster Conservatives and Unionists New Force on Tuesday. Here Ian Paisley jnr responds

It was interesting to observe the comments of Owen Polley (December 8) concerning the demands being placed upon the UUP by the Tories.

Mr Polley says that the entire idea of UCUNF is underpinned by a Tory determination that every single Northern Ireland Westminster seat must be fought: "No ifs, no buts, no maybes."

Am I the only person who senses a veiled threat in such tones?

We all know that the Tories have pumped money into the UUP over recent times. Is Mr Polley suggesting that such largesse will be cut off if the UUP don't do exactly what they are told by the Tory party?

Were I a life-long UUP member, I know that I would respond very badly to the patronising, condescending attitude displayed by the Tories towards my party.

It is a foolish logic which dictates that keeping Michelle Gildernew and Alasdair McDonnell ensconced in Westminster seats represents a serious pro-Union strategy. How can Northern Ireland sending extra nationalists to Westminster actually strengthen our place inside the Union?

Furthermore, by what stream-of-consciousness does Mr Polley arrive at the conclusion that the Tory Party running in every single seat means that the Union is made more secure?

Unionism and the Tory party are two different things. Indeed, history shows that one (the Tories) has often worked to undermine and weaken the other (the Union).

The DUP recognises that in South Belfast and in Fermanagh/South Tyrone an agreed unionist candidate stands the best chance of winning.

That is why we have reiterated time and again our long-standing offer to the UUP: let's work together - by dividing the seats equally we can return them to the pro-Union family. The DUP stands ready and willing to co-operate with the Ulster Unionist Party. Our offer today is the same one that we made in 2005. Back then the UUP rejected the offer. Most pro-Union voters hope that Reg Empey will learn from the mistakes made by David Trimble (now a Tory Peer). I accept that there has been bitterness and acrimony within unionism in the past, but we cannot allow that to get in the way of advancing the greater good of the unionist cause. The political knockabout between the two parties will always go on, but this issue is just too important to be messed up.

Co-operation needs to start somewhere and what better means of co-operating can there be than working jointly to correct the mistakes of the past and unseat two individuals who want to see Northern Ireland dislodged from the Union?

I would urge rank-and-file UUP members to make their voice heard. I am pleased that UUP members in South Belfast and UUP MLA Tom Elliot have defied the Tory diktat on this matter.

People often talk about the unionist community being demoralised. I believe one of the reasons for this is because in Westminster contests for more than a quarter of a century the flow of seats has been towards nationalism: Newry and Armagh fell in 1986, South Down in 1987, Mid-Ulster in 1997 and West Tyrone in 2001. Not since 1983 has a unionist candidate taken back a seat that was previously held by a nationalist or republican incumbent.

For 26 years our community has watched aghast as nationalists profited from division and low unionist turn-out. Co-operation between the DUP and the UUP allows us the prospect of writing a new positive chapter in unionist history - not merely of taking one seat back, but reclaiming two from nationalists and republicans.Think of the major boost it would be to the confidence of the unionist community to see Gildernew turfed out in Fermanagh/South Tyrone and Alasdair McDonnell given his marching orders in South Belfast.

That is the prize before us: two-thirds of Northern Ireland's MPs championing the Union. By working together we can achieve it. As our forefathers said: "United we stand, divided we fall."

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