Belfast Telegraph

NI Assembly Election: 'Mike Nesbitt has put me off - they've lost a transfer from me'

East Belfast

By Rebecca Black

It was a tale of two halves in East Belfast yesterday where voters at polling stations less than a mile apart gave polar opposite views as they arrived to cast their votes.

On the Lower Newtownards Road there was a slow but steady flow of people around lunchtime arriving at the Dee Street Community Centre, beside the famous Welders Social Club - arguably the heartbeat of East Belfast loyalism.

The Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scandal may have dominated the media headlines for the last three months, but here voters were more outraged at the suggestion that a unionist would give their second preference vote to a nationalist.

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt publicly declared his intention to give his second vote in East Belfast to SDLP candidate Seamas De Faoite after his own party's Andy Allen.

"Mike Nesbitt is off his rocker," said voter Margaret Barnes. "He's put me off. They have lost a transfer from me."

James McCarter was of a similar view when he emerged after casting his ballot: "Nesbitt put me off voting UUP, he shouldn't have said it."

DUP leader Arlene Foster may have likened Sinn Fein to crocodiles during the campaign, but yesterday in inner East Belfast they were the bogey men.

"There's shinners in there," one man told two elderly ladies as they made their way to the polling station, while other voters blamed Sinn Fein entirely for the election. One pensioner admitted she didn't quite follow all the detail of the RHI scandal, and that the only reason she was voting was to stop Sinn Fein getting the chance of nominating a First Minister.

Margaret Barnes said: "Everyone makes mistakes, it has been blown out of proportion."

But there was less forgiveness for Alliance leader Naomi Long who despite being from this area remains the focus of stern criticism, still blamed for the change of policy at Belfast City Hall where the Union flag is now only flown on statutory days instead of all year round - even though she was not a councillor when that decision was taken.

"She was born and reared in a kitchen house the same I was, but from when she went into politics, I haven't agreed with her. I refused to even take a leaflet with her picture on it when they came round the doors," a voter who did not wish to be named said.

"If she wants a vote down here she may put that flag back up."

Another voter who wished to be known as AM said she felt it was easier when there were just two candidates on the ballot paper.

DUP candidate David Douglas greeted all as they arrived, handing each a leaflet. He admitted the nerves were going to kick in that night and that when he was first selected to defend his father Sammy's Assembly seat, he was so nervous he couldn't eat for days.

However veteran PUP candidate John Kyle was taking it all in his stride as he visited Dee Street and seemed to be Mr Popular, with passing cars beeping as they spotted him and one woman shouting out the window "good luck John".

Over at Dundela Infants School, there was a very different mood. While RHI may have passed by the Lower Newtownards Road, it was very much on the minds of voters here.

"We are not talking tens of thousands at stake here, nor even hundreds of thousands or millions, but hundreds of millions," one local resident said. "Yet it is hard to make people accountable. We have got to do better, they have got our budget in their hands and it is up to them to manage that appropriately."

Phyllis Graham said: "I always vote, there is no use sitting and complaining if you don't do anything about it. Whether it will make any difference or not, who knows. But I think people are really fed up."

Belfast Telegraph


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