FORMER First Minister David Trimble has underlined again that there would be no agreed UUP-DUP candidates in Northern Ireland for the General Election.
Lord Trimble, who was leader of the Ulster Unionists and is now a Conservative, appeared to put the final lid on speculation on unionist unity candidates in the marginal constituencies which were lost to unionism in 2005.
Most of the final 18 names in the UUP-Conservative grouping are due to be announced on Saturday afternoon.
It seems increasingly unlikely that agreed unionist candidates will be put forward in Fermanagh-South Tyrone, where Michelle Gildernew is the Sinn Fein incumbent, or South Belfast, where Alasdair McDonnell also won against a split unionist vote.
DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds yesterday urged UUP leader Sir Reg Empey and Tory leader David Cameron "to do the right thing on unionist unity in South Belfast and Fermanagh-South Tyrone in the Westminster election.".
The North Belfast MP said: "An abstentionist Sinn Fein MP may give a slight boost to the chances of forming a Conservative Government by reducing the overall number required by that party, but it simply is not in the best interests of the Union or of Northern Ireland to reduce the number of unionists we return to Westminster because a party cannot set aside self-interest for the best interests of everyone."
But Lord Trimble, who was formerly MP for Upper Bann, told the News Letter "absolutely not" as he canvassed with his wife Daphne, the UUP-Conservative candidate in Jeffrey Donaldson's Lagan Valley constituency.
"We have said all along that we will not be joining with any party of a sectarian nature and will be fighting all 18 seats in Northern Ireland – in fact, we will be fighting every seat in the UK, and the Province will be no exception," he said.
UUP leader Sir Reg Empey reinforced the Trimble stance last night. Speaking from America after the St Patrick's Day celebrations, he said: "DUP have nine out of 10 seats and one wonders how many more they want.
"It was they who gave South Belfast and Fermanagh-South Tyrone to the nationalists and they should return them to us, the new coalition."
The unambiguous statement came as the UUP's executive prepared to meet this morning at the Hilton Hotel in Templepatrick to give its approval to the a new batch of candidates to contest the general election, adding the second group to the nine already announced.
The candidates could be either Tories or UUP, but have to be approved by the leadership in each party, which in the case of the UUP means approval from the party executive.
There is thought to be some discontent within the ranks.
Ulster Unionist deputy leader Danny Kennedy, for example, is known to be in favour of a unity move with DUP to give the unionists a chance of retrieving the 'lost' seats.
However, he was saying little yesterday, although he was still hopeful that the door may be left open for compromise.
"I don't think that all the names will be announced this weekend," was his guarded statement.
High-profile North Antrim politician Deirdre Nelson has quit the Tories after a very public row.
In South Antrim the Mayor of Antrim Adrian Watson still doesn't known whether he is a certain runner, even though he was selected by UUP in November and went through the various "hoops". He refused to comment yesterday.
And ex-Lord Mayor of Belfast Fred Cobain – the UUP Chief Whip tipped to stand in North Belfast – admitted he knew nothing about today's announcements.
In Fermanagh/South Tyrone, there is speculation that Tom Elliott may go again, as in 2005.
In North Down, UUP man Johnny Andrews is up against Tory Ian Parsley for the joint Tory-UUP candidacy against Lady Sylvia Hermon, if she decides to stand as an independent.