LORD Kilclooney has hit out after UUP chairman Lord Empey dismissed his suggestion that there is a case for a new unionist party in Northern Ireland.
Initially, Lord Kilclooney, an independent cross-bencher, told the BBC programme The View that he was impressed by some of the young protest organisers and that a new party may emerge from the flags crisis.
“They are quite articulate,” he told the programme. “There is obviously a new breed of politician coming to the fore in Northern Ireland.
“They may get together and form their own political party. I think there is a case for it.”
But Lord Empey said it was his firm opinion that with the UUP “and at least five other political parties representing unionism at present the last thing unionism needs is the creation of yet another party or parties to further shred the unionist vote”.
Lord Empey added that the Alliance Party could not be “regarded as a soft or safe option for unionist voters”.
However last night Lord Kilclooney said: “Lord Empey, in rejecting the idea of a new unionist party, states that it would shred the unionist vote.
“He fails to recognise facts. Firstly some 50 per cent of unionists in east Belfast do not vote at present so their votes could not be shared.
“Secondly neither the DUP nor UUP are attracting the votes of many in Belfast so they need an alternative to maximise the unionist vote.
“Thirdly, times have changed. When elections were won by the ‘first past the post’ system Lord Empey would be right but he should realise that times have changed.
“With the exception of Westminster all elections are on the basis of proportional representation – local council, European, and Stormont Assembly – so unionist voters in Belfast can vote for all unionist parties and consolidate the overall unionist result.”
Lord Kilclooney said another unionist party “would therefore not shred the unionist vote but instead encourage a much greater turnout of those unionist voters who require an alternative to the existing unionist parties”.
He said an increase in unionist representation at Belfast City Council and Stormont “is preferable to the present situation whereby many unionists do not vote in Belfast”.
He added: “Indeed even Lord Empey’s former seat at the City Hall was lost to Sinn Fein.
“Is that desirable? I say no. We need parties which will attract more unionists to vote in future elections in Northern Ireland.”