Belfast Telegraph

General Election: Politicians hit out at threats to UUP staff as tensions rise over party's electoral pacts stance

Ulster Unionist headquarters in east Belfast. Credit: Google
Ulster Unionist headquarters in east Belfast. Credit: Google
UUP leader-in-waiting Steve Aiken has said he will not enter into any deals with the DUP
Ken Maginnis
Nigel Dodds

By Mairead Holland

Politicians have condemned threats issued to Ulster Unionist Party staff as tensions mount over whether it will enter into an electoral pact with the DUP at the forthcoming General Election.

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Police sources said they were investigating the threats, which were made after 25 senior unionist figures signed a letter to UUP leader-designate Steve Aiken MLA, to voice their concerns about splitting the unionist vote in north Belfast.

Last night one of the signatories, former Newtownabbey Mayor John Scott, condemned the threats.

He said: "It's an absolute disgrace.

"Whoever is issuing these threats is making a mockery of democracy.

"Every politician, no matter from what party, should come out and condemn those threats to those officers and staff of the Ulster Unionist Party."

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds, who is MP for the North Belfast constituency, also condemned the threats, saying there needs to be "respect on all sides for the democratic process".

He said: "There have been some reports of intimidation and threats issued towards members and activists from the UUP.

"Any such incidents are deplorable and must be totally condemned.

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Nigel Dodds

"The only appropriate way to express your views and the most effective way to send a message in our society is through the ballot box."

On Wednesday, a letter printed in the Belfast Telegraph and signed by a group of 25 unionists called for a single unionist candidate in North Belfast.

It said running a UUP candidate would help Sinn Fein win.

UUP leader-designate Mr Aiken had previously ruled out an election pact with the DUP, but while appearing on the BBC's The View programme, he appeared to backtrack and refused to confirm if the party will put forward a candidate against DUP North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds.

Unionists are worried a UUP candidate would split the vote in the constituency and lead to a Sinn Fein victory.

Last night, hundreds of unionists of all ages attended two meetings, one at a north Belfast Orange Hall and the other at the Spectrum Centre on the Shankill Road, to air their concerns over the Prime Minister's Brexit proposals and unionist prospects at the forthcoming General Election.

The Belfast Telegraph was refused entry to the north Belfast meeting.

Tweeting last night, loyalist activist Jamie Bryson said: "Another two packed out meetings in north & west Belfast tonight.

"The energy is fizzing across the unionist community, and there is a collective commitment to resist the Betrayal Act and an economic United Ireland."

Meanwhile, former UUP MP Ken Maginnis declared his support for a unionist pact, describing it as the "practical" solution.

Lord Maginnis, who left the UUP in 2012 and sits in the House of Lords, said such a move was necessary to keep Sinn Fein and Alliance out.

"If one can effect an agreement of some sort without compromising any principle then that's how it should be," he said.

Lord Maginnis said that while not knowing all the details of the North Belfast seat, "it doesn't appear sensible that we should take a risk of electing (Sinn Fein) to that constituency".

The former UUP MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone added: "I would like to see a little bit of careful thinking.

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Ken Maginnis

"It's okay to take a general, principled 'my party comes first' stand, of course it does, but not if it's to the extent that you are leaving room for either Sinn Fein or Alliance."

Lord Kilclooney, also a former UUP MP and the party's deputy leader from 1995-2001, tweeted: "It was a major blunder by Steve Aiken and, whilst understanding the impetus behind it, now is the time to reconsider it.

"Wiser counsel must prevail."

The Belfast Telegraph contacted Mr Aiken for a response but there was no reply.

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