General Election: UUP intends to stand in 17 seats, but potential candidates facing 'pressure,' says Doug Beattie
But party officials have faced no further intimidation, says MLA
The UUP MLA Doug Beattie has said his party intends to fight for 17 of Northern Ireland's 18 constituencies in the forthcoming General Election.
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However, he said there was a "real problem" with "real pressure" on their potential candidates to not contest against the DUP seats in East and South Belfast, a call which he admitted he couldn't understand.
"It could be our candidates could not stand for themselves and that might create a difficulty for us... and we saw that in regards to North Belfast and how some of our staff were intimidated.
"So that is a reality of the election we are going into," he told the BBC's Talkback Radio Ulster programme.
He said the issues with South and East Belfast were "slightly different" to the case in North Belfast, stressing there had been no further threats issued, or intimidation of party officials from loyalist paramilitaries in regard to those areas as there had been in the North Belfast which is being investigated by police.
PSNI chief constable Simon Byrne has appealed for calm during the General Election campaign as he warned that any form of intimidation will not be tolerated. Mr Byrne said he had not yet seen any detailed evidence that indicated loyalist paramilitaries were trying to influence the election.
Upper Bann MLA Mr Beattie said they had candidates to stand in East and South Belfast but the contest was becoming a "divisive Brexit orientated" election.
Mr Beattie said there was "real anger" in unionist and loyalist communities that they had been let down in terms of Brexit.
He added: "I am concerned that those frustrations may result in some of our candidates finding themselves under pressure again."
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Mr Beattie - an Afghanistan war veteran - has previously said if no one could put their name forward in North Belfast over the threats, he would have put his own name on the ballot paper.
But he said the party took the decision to stand down in the area to ensure representation continued in Westminster.
The UUP leader-designate Steve Aiken, in an interview with the Belfast Telegraph, initially said his party intended to contest every seat in the December poll. However, after intense pressure from unionists, the DUP and claims of loyalist paramilitary threats the party opted to withdraw from the North Belfast contest.
The DUP has withdrawn from Fermanagh and South Tyrone.
In an interview with the BBC, Steve Aiken was repeatedly asked if the party would be standing aside in other areas. The DUP is facing pressure as a so-called remain alliance has coalesced behind single candidates in seats such as South and East Belfast.
Mr Aiken would only say the party was considering its options and was still in the selection process for candidates.
"We have a process, the process is ongoing. You can ask me as many questions as your like, that will be the answer," he said.
Mr Beattie, speaking to BBC Talkback, said his party withdrew from North Belfast "for very good reasons".
"That was about representation. People in North Belfast, no matter which community they are from, deserve to be represented.
"If it was a Sinn Fein MP they would not be there, so we stood aside in North Belfast to allow the people to have representation."
On Lady Sylvia Hermon's North Down seat, he said it was a "unionist seat and why shouldn't unionists stand in a unionist seat".
The party is holding a selection convention for Fermanagh and South Tyrone on Thursday where Tom Elliott is expected to get the party backing, with other meetings planned for Friday for other constituencies.
A party source said there would be a "clearer picture" of its election candidates and where they are standing by the start of next week.
Meanwhile, Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry said his party would be fielding candidates in all NI seats in the election as it was important to give the electorate a choice and they "didn't take the voters for granted".
However, he suggested the party would run a low-key campaign in North Down.
He said if Lady Hermon decided to stand their approach "will be focused elsewhere". And if she didn't put her name on the ballot paper it would be a "major seat" for his party.
On pacts, he added: "The side effect of this, is to further entrench the notion the DUP and Sinn Fein are the power brokers that matter in Northern Ireland and that message will have longer term implications and be more destructive for our politics."
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