Voters manipulated by unity move – Alliance

Eric Bullick
Eric Bullick

UNIONIST unity “manipulates” the electorate of Mid Ulster, the Alliance candidate in next week’s by-election has claimed.

Retired headmaster Eric Bullick — whose party has made little impact in Mid Ulster over the years — was reluctant to identify what would represent a good result in next Thursday’s poll but said that he had picked up roughly equal support for, and opposition to, the unionist unity candidate.

In the 2010 Westminster election, the party took 397 votes — one per cent of the vote — and in the following year’s Assembly contest it took just one further vote.

The married father-of-two told the News Letter: “I’m picking up that maybe slightly more people would have preferred a wider choice than support the single candidate.

“I think that people would have preferred six or seven candidates and the reduction to four is, to my mind, and to many people on the doorsteps, a manipulation of the electorate – it’s as if they are not being taken seriously.”

With just nine days to the election, little is yet known about unionist unity candidate Nigel Lutton’s personal views or what he would do if – in what would be a massive electoral upset – he was elected MP.

The News Letter has asked the DUP, UUP and TUV for an interview with the candidate they are endorsing to discuss his views on policies. Despite this newspaper being the only publication to have endorsed Mr Lutton, they have yet to agree to such an interview.

Mr Bullick said that he had canvassed in Cookstown and part of Magherafelt to date, and said that those who were willing to talk were “not raising local issues”.

He said: “Among those who are willing to talk, many people are complaining about the fact that this seems to be down to yet another border poll of just green and orange issues when they feel that there are much more pressing issues for them — jobs, the economy, house repossessions and the difficulties of managing the household budget.”

He said that as Northern Ireland’s future could only be decided in a border poll, it was “not a current issue”.

Asked how he would address the economic turmoil which Mid Ulster is experiencing, Mr Bullick praised Alliance’s Employment Minister Stephen Farry for trying “every scheme imaginable” to help those out of work, and added: “Northern Ireland has huge potential [to attract investment] but it is clouded by what hits the headlines.”

Mr Bullick admitted that some voters had criticised Alliance’s stance on the Union Flag in Belfast and support for same-sex marriage in Westminster, but said that only “a tiny minority” had done so.

Mr Bullick said that after a “seriously long” reflection he had “come to the same conclusion” as the party on both those controversial issues.