Pact won’t guarantee UUP votes for DUP candidates: McCallister

Former UUP MLA John McCallister. Picture: Matt Mackey/presseye.com
Former UUP MLA John McCallister. Picture: Matt Mackey/presseye.com

A unionist pact for next month’s general election would not guarantee DUP candidates the support of all UUP voters, John McCallister has said.

The former Ulster Unionist MLA said it sends a confusing message to the electorate if parties cooperate in one area and then “go to war” in others.

“If you are going to do [a pact] does it make sense to only do it in five or six seats and then go to war with the other party in the other constituencies?” he said.

I don’t think it helped the DUP two years ago in Upper Bann that [candidates] were tearing strips off each other in Upper Bann, yet across the boundary in Fermanagh/South Tyrone they were recommending people to vote for the UUP.

Mr McCallister resigned from the Ulster Unionists in 2013 over the decision to form pact with the DUP on a single candidate for a Mid Ulster by-election. In his resignation letter, Mr McCallister said he first voted for the UUP in 1992 because of the party’s values and had “no interest in supporting other narrow expressions of unionism, committed as they were to confrontation and triumphalism”.

He formed the ill-fated NI21 party with Basil McCrea and then lost his assembly seat while standing as an independent in the 2016 election.

Speaking to the News Letter yesterday, Mr McCallister said: “I think pacts are bad for our politics. I think they are bad for Northern Ireland.

“Even in Fermanagh/South Tyrone, you cannot add up the UUP and DUP vote and that’s what you end up getting in an election. The same if you take East Belfast two years ago. Naomi Long managed to pile 5,000 votes on to her count so a significant number of those had to be UUP voters.”

Mr McCallister added: “The main negotiations would take place in somewhere like South Belfast – where the UUP desperately needs something back in Belfast but the DUP is the largest party. They should, in theory, take that seat very easily with an agreed candidate, although in 2015 Jonathan Bell (DUP) wasn’t that far behind Alastair [McDonnell].”

Gavin Robinson, who reclaimed the East Belfast Westminster seat for the DUP from Alliance as an agreed unionist candidate in 2015, said he would have no concerns if a pact was not in place, but “no one is resting on their laurels”.

He added: “From an East Belfast perspective there have been eight elections since 2011 and in each and every one of those the DUP was the number one [unionist party], and only one of those was a pact. In every other one there was a full range of candidates from the other parties.”