Two key members of the Unionist Forum have expressed their support for continued intra-unionist cooperation but have not denied the claim that the forum is effectively dead.
Yesterday the News Letter revealed that, six months after TUV leader Jim Allister left the forum, a second unionist party had quit.
UKIP MLA David McNarry said that the forum – which was set up by Peter Robinson and Mike Nesbtit a year ago at the height of the flag protests – had been “driven into a car crash” and had not met for more than seven months.
Loyalist members of the forum, who stressed that they plan to attend any future meetings of the group, also expressed deep frustrations at the lack of progress or meetings of the forum.
The UUP MLA Tom Elliott, one of his party’s representatives on the forum, yesterday said that he was open to future talks with other unionists, but did not refer to the forum in the future tense.
The former Ulster Unionist leader said: “I attended several meetings of the forum or its committees in the past. While there haven’t been any recent meetings of the forum, I remain open to discussions with the unionist community on areas of mutual interest.”
When asked if it was still a part of the forum, the Orange Order released a carefully-worded statement which did not mention the forum by name.
An Orange Order spokesman said: “The Orange Institution has always been a strong advocate for unionist unity. However, we don’t underestimate the difficulties in achieving this aim.
“As we approach two elections later this year, many unionist people are frustrated by the fact there will be at least seven pro-Union parties to choose from on the ballot paper.
“We all have to face the fact that the continual splintering of the unionist vote greatly weakens our position.”
When the Unionist Forum was set up, the First Minister, who co-chaired it with the Ulster Unionist leader, described it as “the most representative group in the unionist community to meet in half a century”.
TUV leader Jim Allister left last June over the Maze.
l Yesterday’s News Letter reported that David McNarry had been “expelled from the UUP over his attempts to bring the party closer to the DUP”.
The UUP has asked us to point out that he was in fact expelled over his lack of party discipline. We are happy to clarify the matter.