Unionists 'angered by Stormont'
Unionists who were said to have refused to vote because they want more liberal candidates are actually angry at the performance of Stormont politicians, hardliners have claimed.
Leader of the Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) party Jim Allister said stay-at-home voters were angry that the DUP is sharing power with Sinn Fein despite pledges never to do so.
The would-be MP was beaten in the last election by Ian Paisley Jnr, but despite his party's failure so far to secure electoral success, he promised they would be back for next May's Assembly poll.
Mr Allister, a former DUP stalwart who split with the party over its decision to enter government with republicans, used his address in Cookstown, Co Tyrone, to attack Sinn Fein's past links to the IRA and his former party for entering the power-sharing administration. "We may not have had the year we would have liked, or that your hard work and that of all our candidates deserved, but TUV is here and here to stay, because the cause and the need that brought us into existence haven't gone away," he said.
Mr Allister said while some would sooner see the TUV defeated than Sinn Fein, he maintained his party has more durability than the "never, never, never" pretence of some, because at its core was principle, not expediency.
"Who would rejecters of terrorists in government vote for, if TUV was not here?" he asked delegates. "Who would those who dare to say Stormont isn't working vote for? Or, those who think an Opposition would help? So, far from vote-splitters, we are vote-gatherers for unionism."
Mr Allister claimed that if the cause of traditional unionism was vanquished the unionist vote would shrink even more.
He said that instead of demonising the TUV, the DUP and others should be glad they were here.
"I believe a large share of stay-at home unionists voters are not soft liberals but unionists disgusted by the somersaulting antics," he continued. "Mellow liberals are spoiled for choice, there's Peter, or Arlene, or Jeffrey, or Basil or David - I can't believe I'm a Minister - Ford. All shades of fluffy, roll-over unionists are available in abundance, so lurching further into Belfast Agreement politics will not arrest the unionist decline. Many are looking for unionist politicians who won't roll over, and that's where TUV comes into its own."
His party had threatened to destabilise the DUP in the past, but a poor general election performance has dampened TUV expectations.