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Unionists clash again on prospect of Sinn Fein in top post

By Noel McAdam

The blame game has resumed between rival unionist parties over the the prospect of Martin McGuinness emerging as First Minister after next year’s Assembly election.

Both the DUP and Jim Allister’s Traditional Unionist Voice have pointed the finger at each other for attempting to inject a ‘fear factor’ into the unionist electorate over the former IRA second-in-command taking the First Minister position.

Sinn Fein would be in line for the post should it emerge as the largest single party at Stormont. However, this looks less likely since the relatively poor performance of Mr Allister’s candidates in the May General Election.

But Mr Allister returned to the warpath over the issue yesterday after a barrage of senior DUP figures drew attention to the threat in recent days.

In the Belfast Telegraph on Friday, DUP leader Peter Robinson warned: “From a unionist point of view, do we really want the Queen being snubbed by the First Minister if a republican was there? Do you want a republican going round the world saying he speaks for Northern Ireland?”

In another article for this paper last week, deputy leader Nigel Dodds rounded on “those trying to frighten the unionist electorate for their own electoral gain”.

MP Sammy Wilson further underpinned his party’s insistence that its 2011 election campaign would be more positive than fears over Mr McGuinness.

But he argued on Monday that if his party and Ulster Unionists could not establish closer co-operation then it would fall to his party to convince “the unionist population that only in the DUP is there any hope of avoiding the political, psychological and morale-sapping damage of having Martin McGuinness as First Minister”.

Mr Allister, however, insisted: “It is clear that the DUP was content to see the change which permits McGuinness to be foisted on a unionist majority in the Assembly. A calculated decision was taken that creating the threat of McGuinness as First Minister would be a useful electoral tool to duress unionists into voting DUP.”

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