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UUP divided over future parade protest action

Meanwhile, party faithful support Mike Nesbitt's wife Lynda Bryans standing for election

By Noel McAdam

Almost half of Ulster Unionists would support widespread protest action arising from the joint unionist/loyalist "graduated response" over a contentious parade in north Belfast, a Belfast Telegraph poll has revealed.

However, the party appears split down the middle over whether further protests linked to the dispute announced by unionist, loyalist and Orange leaders should be supported.

Nearly half (46%) of the delegates questioned in our annual Belfast Telegraph survey said they would support "widespread further protest" in relation to the so-called graduated response strategy – but 42% were opposed.

An overwhelming majority (88%) said they were happy with the party's involvement in the graduated response sparked by the Parades Commission ban on the return July 12 parade in Ardoyne, with just 6% against.

The finding comes as those behind the joint unionist/loyalist strategy await further clarification from Secretary of State Theresa Villiers over her proposed panel of inquiry into the parading row. Both Sinn Fein and the SDLP oppose her move.

The banning of the parade led to the ongoing loyalist protest camp at Twaddell Avenue.

Meanwhile, members also overwhelmingly backed leader Mike Nesbitt's high-profile wife Lynda Bryans standing for the party in a future election.

Following recent speculation, four out of five grass roots members (78%) said they were in favour of Ms Bryans as a party candidate in East Belfast. But 12% were opposed, and 10% said they "don't know".

A significant majority (68%) also said the party should not consider leaving the Executive to form an opposition at the moment – that is without the necessary underpinning legislation being in place.

But just over one in five (22%) said the UUP should consider leaving immediately, while 10% had no opinion.

With Mr Nesbitt going public on his proposal to give the DUP a free run in North Belfast in the general election in return for reciprocation in the Fermanagh and South Tyrone seat, almost three-quarters of members said they would support joint candidates with the DUP.

But Ulster Unionists are more divided on the question of forming electoral pacts with the DUP in marginal seats for the next Assembly elections in May 2016.

Just over half (52%) in our snap survey on Saturday agreed with the suggestion, but 40% were against and 8% could not decide.

Mr Nesbitt can take huge comfort in his own personal ratings, getting the highest possible mark from 84% of those questioned, and only six per cent giving the lowest mark.

And an even higher percentage (96%) endorsed his decision to walk out after the first day of the party leaders' meetings in July.

Yet his highest mark (98%) backed Mr Nesbitt's decision to take part in the latest talks convened by Mrs Villiers, which got under way last Thursday, with no one against.

There was one other sweeping result, with 92% saying that following the recent Scottish referendum there should not be a border poll in Northern Ireland, although eight per cent of attendees said there should be such a referendum.

A random sample of 50 UUP delegates at the conference was surveyed.

The questions were put to them by journalist Conor Meikleham and the poll was officially verified and audited by the Belfast Telegraph's partner polling organisation, LucidTalk.

In a separate exercise, LucidTalk held a confidential ballot in which 158 delegates took part, of which 82% agreed the UUP should engage in a pact with the DUP and other unionist parties to agree joint candidates for the next Westminster election.

How members answered our poll questions

Q: Are you happy with your party's involvement in the 'graduated response' from unionist and Orange Order leaders?

YES 88%

NO 6%

NO OPINION 6%

Q: Would you support widespread further protest in relation to the 'graduated response' strategy ?

YES 46%

NO 42%

NO OPINION 12%

Q: Did you support Mike Nesbitt walking out of the inter-party talks in July following the Parades Commission determination on the north Belfast parade?

YES 96%

NO 2%

NO OPINION 2%

Q: Do you agree with the party taking part in the current talks being organised by Secretary of State Theresa Villiers ?

YES 98%

NO 0%

NO OPINION 2%

Q: Would you support joint candidates with the DUP in agreed seats for the Westminster election?

YES 74%

NO 18%

NO OPINION 8%

Q: Should the UUP form electoral pacts with the DUP in marginal seats in the next Assembly election?

YES 40%

NO 52%

NO OPINION 8%

Q: Are you in favour of the leader's wife, Lynda Bryans, being selected to stand for the party in east Belfast.

YES 78%

NO 12%

NO OPINION 10%

Q: Should the UUP consider leaving the Executive immediately (ie, without opposition legislation) and going into opposition? (We mean as things stand, for example without waiting for special legislation)

YES 22%

NO 68%

NO OPINION 10%

Q: Following the recent Scottish referendum, do you think there should be a similar 'Border Poll' referendum in Northern Ireland?

YES 8%

NO 92%

NO OPINION 0%

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