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Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt backs pact among unionists in May elections

By Liam Clarke

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt is prepared to recommend a unionist pact on transfers in the European and local government elections later this year.

Speaking at the UUP Annual General Meeting at Hilton Templepatrick, the MLA said it was worth considering for both polls being held on May 22.

When asked if he proposed cooperating with the DUP in the elections, Mr Nesbitt replied: "That is an interesting question.

"I said that I would be more than happy to recommend that people vote down the unionist card if the other unionist parties are going to reciprocate.

"That conversation has not been had. If that is the way the other unionist parties feel, it doesn't give me an issue at all."

It remains to be seen if the larger party takes up his offer but signs are that it is open to it.

Last month Peter Robinson, the DUP leader, told party members in East Londonderry that it was his intention to maximise the entire unionist vote. He also announced that his party would not be running two Euro candidates.

Mr Nesbitt stressed that, whether there was a deal or not, he felt the UUP was "better prepared than we have ever been".

"There are areas where we are particularly strong like East Antrim where we have a slate of some very young, keen, intelligent candidates," he said.

"I went to their general meeting and when I looked around the room I saw four to six potential leaders of the party there in 10, 15, 20 years time."

He added: "We would like to be stronger in Belfast. I have to say Belfast is a long-term project."

He said there was a need to take on Alliance. He highlighted the statement by Anna Lo, its Euro candidate, that she favoured a united Ireland and regarded the border as "a bit artificial".

"In previous elections I suspect people regarded Alliance as soft, almost cuddly unionists, a pro-union vote. Clearly they are not pro-union at all and it depends on who you are talking to what answer you get," he said.

Elsewhere in the speech on Saturday, he took on Martin McGuinness, the deputy First Minister who recently branded Mr Nesbitt a "major disappointment" and wondered what Mike Nesbitt the journalist would say to Mike Nesbitt the politician.

"I wonder what Martin McGuinness the deputy First Minister would say to Martin McGuinness, the terrorist commander." Mr Nesbitt countered. Mr McGuinness admits to being an IRA leader until 1974.

The former UTV presenter added: "I would like to think Martin McGuinness the deputy First Minister would grab Martin McGuinness the terrorist by the lapels, strap him into his seat, and drive him to the point where he understood, in a blinding flash, that terrorism wasn't inevitable, it was a choice. A bad choice."

Meanwhile, the UUP has claimed victory in a Freedom of Information battle over what it called 'OFMDFM paranoia' over the Maze prison site.

The Information Commissioner has given the first ministers' department 35 days to disclose market research, an economic appraisal and marketing strategy conducted before plans for the Maze were scuppered by Mr Robinson.

The UUP had requested the information more than a year ago.

Belfast Telegraph


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