FORMER Ulster Unionist leader Lord Empey has warned the DUP that they are “treading on dangerous ground” after they revealed they are discussing supporting Sinn Fein’s calls for a vote on a united Ireland.
Last week, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams called for a border poll to be held.
Then, speaking in a radio interview on Tuesday, DUP Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster said her party might “call [Sinn Fein’s] bluff” on the issue and support a referendum on Northern Ireland’s constitutional future.
Mrs Foster said she believed that any border poll would result in “a very clear validation of the Union”.
But Lord Empey said yesterday that he fears the DUP “are treading on dangerous ground if they were to back a Sinn Fein call for a referendum”.
He insisted his party does not fear a border poll, but said it would encourage Sinn Fein to demand more in the future and claimed that the Province could end up “permanently in border poll mode”.
“While I have no doubt that a very strong pro-Union majority would emerge from any border poll – and even Gerry Adams knows this – it would almost inevitably set the meter running and encourage Sinn Fein to demand one every seven years and mean that Northern Ireland would be permanently in border poll mode,” he said.
“If this process were set in train, it would give Sinn Fein a permanent opportunity to grandstand and put the constitutional issue front and centre for ever.”
Lord Empey said he believes this would have a “destabilising effect on politics in Northern Ireland and deflect attention and effort away from issues such as the economy, the health service and education”.
“The Belfast Agreement gives security to unionists on their constitutional future as all they have to do to retain it is turn out at election time and vote for unionists. If the electorate ceases to support unionists at elections, then, and only then, can Sinn Fein reasonably say that the evidence is that support for a united Ireland is growing while support for the Union is waning.”
DUP MP Sammy Wilson responded to Lord Empey’s comments, saying: “Sinn Fein’s bluster around a border poll is destabilising but unionists should be aware that it is only grandstanding to cover their embarrassment.
“Despite decades of campaigning, both with and without violence, support for a united Ireland has never been lower. The result of a border poll would be Sinn Fein’s worst nightmare.
“It would not be in their favour and it would expose the utter failure of their 40-year campaign.”
Northern Ireland Secretary of State Theresa Villiers has said she currently has no plans to call a border poll.
l The News Letter is running an online poll. The results so far are overwhelmingly for holding a border poll with 73 per cent of those who voted (1,619 readers) saying there should be a border poll, while 27 per cent (607 readers) said there should not be. You can vote in this poll by logging on to www.newsletter.co.uk