DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has insisted his party is “closing the gap” on Sinn Fein ahead of Stormont Assembly elections in May.
His remarks came following the publication of a poll which suggested his party is trailing the republican party, potentially putting Michelle O’Neill on course to be the next first minister.
The Institute of Irish Studies University of Liverpool/The Irish News survey puts Sinn Fein at 23.2% of first preference votes among decided voters, well ahead of the DUP on 19.4%.
But Sir Jeffrey responded: “As far as the poll is concerned, the DUP is closing the gap on Sinn Fein, we will continue to work at that.
“I have made clear I want unionism to win this election.
“We are going all out for a victory and the feedback we have been getting on the ground is very positive.”
The poll also suggested that little more than one in 10 unionists regard the Northern Ireland Protocol as the most important issue in the election.
When I talk to people, the protocol is an issue for many peopleSir Jeffrey Donaldson
Just 6.7% of all respondents said the post-Brexit trade arrangements were their biggest concern, with unionists (11.7%) roughly four times more likely to regard it as the most important issue compared to nationalists (3%).
The DUP withdrew Paul Givan as first minister in protest at the protocol and have demanded that the UK Government scrap the Irish Sea border.
Sir Jeffrey said: “The protocol remains a big issue for many people.
“When I talk to people, the protocol is an issue for many people.
“But I recognise that this election is also about the future of Northern Ireland, it is about our health service and reform of our health service.
“It is about recovery of our economy post pandemic.”