Sitting MEP Diane Dodds will be the only DUP candidate contesting the European election, Peter Robinson has revealed.
Despite speculation of an attempt to secure a second seat, the DUP leader told a party gathering in Londonderry last night that the main priority was avoiding two non-unionist candidates being returned to the European Parliament.
“As leader of the largest unionist party I believe that I have a responsibility not just to the DUP but to unionism as a whole,” Mr Robinson said.
Three candidates will be elected to Brussels from Northern Ireland following the poll on May 22. Alongside Mrs Dodds, the other sitting MEPs are Ulster Unionist Jim Nicholson and Martina Anderson of Sinn Fein.
Speaking at the East Londonderry DUP Association annual dinner, Mr Robinson said the party officers would be advising the DUP executive of its decision.
“There are those who make the case that we have nothing to lose by running two candidates and everything to gain,” he said. “They point to the weakness of our unionist opponents and the real opportunity that exists if we were to maximise our vote and balance it appropriately to win the second seat.
“I understand those arguments and I respect them. However, as leader of the largest unionist party I believe that I have a responsibility not just to the DUP but to unionism as a whole. This party demonstrated its willingness to put the broader unionist cause ahead of narrow party considerations in the 1970s and 80s and we are prepared to do so again.”
The theme of the first minister’s speech was “unionism must be strong”. Particularly, he said, at a time when “republicans are upping the ante across a range of issues”.
Mr Robinson added: “Whether it is driven by a need to react to the dissident threat, to pander to internal opposition, to divert attention from their failure to achieve a united Ireland, or just a matter of taking orders from their party masters in the Republic of Ireland, in the last few years Sinn Fein has stepped back from the tentative forward steps that were beginning to emerge. That is a disappointing.
“It’s a retrograde step and a failure of leadership.
“Within six months of Martin McGuinness meeting Her Majesty the Queen, Sinn Fein was voting to take down the Union flag at Belfast City Hall. Again their terrorist commemoration events and reaction to the OTR scandal would indicate that they are once again taking a stance of ‘ourselves alone.’
“If republicans are going to be politically aggressive, then unionism must be strong”.