Belfast Telegraph

NI Election: Unionist parties have to join forces or risk being steamrollered, says McNarry

By Noel McAdam

Calls for the DUP and Ulster Unionists to join forces are growing after the Assembly vote saw unionism lose its parliamentary majority for the first time in the history of Northern Ireland.

Unionists hold just 44% of the 90 Assembly seats and together are just one vote ahead of combined nationalism.

If all unionists united on an issue in the Assembly, it would mean 28 DUP votes, 10 Ulster Unionists, the TUV's Jim Allister and former Justice Minister Claire Sugden - a total of 40.

Against that, the combined vote of Sinn Fein with 27 seats and the SDLP on 12 is 39.

Former Ulster Unionist MLA David McNarry suggested the two main unionist parties should more closely align at Stormont.

"To stop republicans steamrolling the unionist identity, unionism at Stormont has no choice but to align," he said.

"Unionists now have no choice other than to align the DUP and UUP under a joint whip in a 38-strong Unionist Assembly group at Stormont.

Mr McNarry, who most recently was Ukip's leader in Northern Ireland but stood down at last May's election, added: "The time is now for action. People will welcome a united unionist bulwark defending their future."

East Belfast loyalist community worker Jim Wilson also warned part of the problem for unionism is "too many political parties". He told BBC Radio Five Live: "At one time we had one unionist party in Northern Ireland, it was the Ulster Unionist Party. The people within unionism need to start to realise that, galvanising the support into one political party."

However, the former loyalist prisoner, who now works in east Belfast, said the current unionist parties were not serving the interests of working-class loyalists.

"There are only two parties within the nationalist community and they do very well and they've given themselves a lift."

Meanwhile, the UUP announced one of its two MPs, Tom Elliott, is to chair the party's delegation for the forthcoming talks to restore devolution.

The Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA, who also played a leading role in the Stormont House talks and American diplomat Richard Haass' abortive attempt at a deal, was chosen after an emergency meeting of party officers on Saturday.

They also decided to put back the party's annual general meeting by a few weeks, until Saturday, April 8.

That could lead the party to have to decide whether it will go back into the Executive in the next few weeks, while Mike Nesbitt remains as leader, and after nine months of Opposition.

But if the party remains in opposition it could mean a majority nationalist Executive for the first time - with the DUP in control of three Ministries, Sinn Fein in control of three and the SDLP with one, in addition to the First Minister and Deputy First Minister.

Results centre - select a constituency - every result as it happened -

North Antrim - East Antrim - South Antrim - North Belfast - East Belfast - South Belfast - West Belfast - Strangford - South Down - Lagan Valley - Upper Bann - Newry and Armagh - Fermanagh & South Tyrone - West Tyrone - Mid Ulster - East Londonderry - Foyle - North Down

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