Belfast Telegraph

General Election 2019

Plan for unionist rival to fight all 18 seats bonkers, says DUP's Donaldson

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson
Gareth Cross

By Gareth Cross

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has urged UUP leader-in-waiting Steve Aiken to reconsider his decision to run candidates in every constituency here.

The DUP MP said the idea was "bonkers" and would cost unionists seats by splitting the vote in key constituencies.

Sir Jeffrey said that he couldn't understand the decision and responded to speculation that DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds could lose his seat in North Belfast to Sinn Fein's John Finucane.

The Lagan Valley MP also backed Emma Little Pengelly to retain her seat in South Belfast, despite challenges from the SDLP's Claire Hanna and Alliance Party's Paula Bradshaw.

Sir Jeffrey said that he believed Mrs Little Pengelly "would do well" in the election.

In relation to Mr Dodds, he said that splitting the unionist vote in North Belfast is "just madness at this time".

He said the move would "hand North Belfast over to an abstentionist MP who won't take his seat in the House of Commons and will leave that crucial constituency with no voice in Parliament".

Sir Jeffrey said that the UUP had benefited from pacts in Fermanagh-South Tyrone in the past.

"Is he saying he doesn't want Tom Elliott to have a free run on the unionist side? Is he saying he wants a Sinn Fein MP to represent the most westerly constituency in the UK and give them no voice in Parliament?" he told BBC Radio Ulster.

"I just don't understand where Steve Aiken is coming from, he is proposing that we have a unionist dogfight in the middle of the most important election for decades.

"I don't think they stand a chance of winning the seats where they are going to split the vote. Is anyone seriously suggesting an Ulster Unionist is going to win North Belfast, where they don't have any Assembly Members? They have one councillor in the entire constituency and haven't had an MP elected there for years.

"Is anyone suggesting that if there are two unionist candidates, a unionist is going to win Fermanagh and South Tyrone? This is just bonkers."

In response to Sir Jeffrey, former UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said the DUP also stands in constituencies where they have no chance of winning.

Mr Nesbitt said he resented the idea from the DUP "that it is undemocratic" for a political party to field candidates in an election.

The Strangford MLA said he agreed to a pact in Fermanagh-South Tyrone in 2015 because he sensed that only Tom Elliott could win the seat from Sinn Fein.

"Don't tell me this is all pure," Mr Nesbitt said, highlighting that the DUP themselves had split the unionist vote in Fermanagh-South Tyrone in the past.

"Let's just look at the facts of all this then support Steve in the decision that he makes," he told the Nolan Show.

A TUV spokesman said that unionists must band together to stop seats going to Sinn Fein.

He said: "One thing is clear to us - the folly of gifting seats to Sinn Fein. Any party that sets such a course is not serving the Union."

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