Credibility of UUP ‘in tatters’

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AN Ulster Unionist councillor has launched a fierce attack on the party’s direction and its press office, in a speech that was not cleared by the UUP press office.

Mark McKinty, who is the deputy mayor of Larne, last night said that the party’s credibility “is in tatters”.

At 25, Mr McKinty is one of the UUP’s youngest councillors and his comments came hours after the publication of a poll which suggested that the UUP is now the fifth largest party in Northern Ireland, behind the Alliance Party.

Mr McKinty, who was first elected last year, told the UUP’s South and West Down branch that the party needed to learn from Fine Gael, where Enda Kenny had managed to “get everyone singing from the same hymnsheet” and had re-organised the party internally.

He said: “It is sorely disappointing that our party has not launched Province-wide campaigns on fuel poverty and prices, the welfare and benefits changes Michael Copeland talked so passionately about only a few weeks ago in the Assembly and equally important jobs, jobs, jobs.

“It is not enough to call for a jobs plan – let’s produce it and use a quality jobs plan to win the hearts and minds of voters to come support the UUP.”

And, in an apparent challenge to UUP leader Mike Nesbitt about one of the areas Mr Nesbitt promised to improve, he said: “Our internal media and communications strategy is so detached from voters that journalists now don’t pay attention to our press releases, or indeed to our press conferences. Today, we have dug ourselves into a hole, a hole of irrelevance and that must end.

“No more press statements for the sake of it. No more reacting and commenting on every thing that moves. We need to pick our battles carefully and only pick battles we know we can win as a party, and battles we know can win votes for our party. We desperately need to start talking the language of the people we seek to represent, before it is too late.”

Yesterday a poll for the Belfast Telegraph suggested there had been a fractional increase in support for the UUP to 11.4 per cent, but that it had nevertheless fallen behind Alliance on 11.6 per cent.

However, the difference was well within the poll’s margin of error of 3.6 per cent. The poll put Sinn Fein down 1.5 per cent, the SDLP up one per cent and the DUP down 0.7 per cent at 30 per cent.