Belfast Telegraph

Incessant bickering of unionist parties sparks frustration among a fed-up voter base

David Boyles
David Boyles
Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

A general election is looming large, with promises of a new start, a potential end to the Brexit stalemate, a fresh beginning.

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Unless you are a unionist voter in Northern Ireland.

The UUP is coming under fire for the stance of leader-in-waiting Steve Aiken, who has pledged that his party will be fielding candidates in all 18 constituencies here.

Around North Belfast, the sense of deja-vu is all too evident. They have been here before. Unionists bickering among themselves.

Kerri Wright
Kerri Wright

The fear this time is that unionists fighting on two fronts will open the gap for Sinn Fein to squeeze in - and they are putting forward a strong candidate in John Finucane, the current Lord Mayor of Belfast.

In the 2017 General Election, Mr Finucane lost out on the seat by just 2,081 votes, and when you look at the figures that leaves current MP and DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds sitting in a precarious position and facing, to quote a famous former football manager, 'squeaky bum time'.

DUP leader Arlene Foster says the UUP stance could "hand the seat to Sinn Fein". Jeffrey Donaldson MP said splitting the unionist vote in North Belfast is "just madness at this time".

And on the streets there is a fear around unionist voters that the tradition of unionist infighting will finally catch them out.

David Boyles has been serving the people around Rathcoole for years in his butcher's shop and has seen it all before. He said voters are now tired of it all.

He shakes his head and says the sense of frustration as more bickering between unionist parties develops is doing nothing other than annoy traditional unionist voters.

"I've said it before and I'll tell anyone who listens once again, as far as the DUP, TUV, UUP, etc are concerned, I don't want them all. I want one unionist party." He added: "It's a real sense of frustration. To people who live around here and who are unionist voters, they all want the same thing.

"Why there has to be so many unionist parties, we never understand."

Whoever does take the MP seat for North Belfast, David said, will be expected to reflect the views of the constituents.

Trevor McIlwaine
Trevor McIlwaine

Kerri Wright, a younger voter, says the infighting she is seeing wouldn't be out of place in a school playground.

"My generation watch this and a lot of them are completely switched off. They just don't care any more about politics," she said.

"No matter what happens they always seem to find something to fall out about. They end up not talking to each other and we don't get anywhere with that. You get fed up with it all."

Trevor McIlwaine has been a unionist voter for years, but also says the sense of annoyance is growing and that people have grown tired of politics in Northern Ireland.

"We're going to be left with the same people again, the same issues again, the same rows again and that's it. No change.

"We need a new range of people, a fresh start. People who are willing to speak to one another would be a good start. We have unionists fighting each other again and I don't think they'll ever get together.

Violet Lynas
Violet Lynas

"I can't see the DUP and UUP working as one and maybe they shouldn't. There's too much difference between them now, but instead of bickering can they not sit down and be constructive? Maybe new faces is the way to go?"

A voter for many years, Violet Lynas says she has all but given up hope of unionists uniting.

"Rows between unionist parties annoys me," she said. "It always has and nothing has changed. For goodness sake, they're like a lot of children, shouting, fighting and throwing their hands up in the air."

Unionism as a whole, it seems, will need to tread carefully to avoid beating itself to death. Discontentment is growing and the vultures are beginning to circle.

Not only does the row between the two main unionist parties risk splitting the vote in a key constituency, it also risks turning off the younger voters who are digesting what it is serving up with distaste.

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