Unionist leaders in Northern Ireland need to “calm down” and work together towards an electoral pact in private – but there is no need for the creation of a single unionist party, Lord Kilclooney has said.
The crossbench peer, who served as both a UUP MP and MEP, before taking a seat in the Lords, described the current state of unionist leadership as “chaotic”.
Commenting on the well-publicised difficulties around negotiations between the DUP’s Arlene Foster and Robin Swann of the UUP, Lord Kilclooney said news of any pact should only be revealed once the names of all nominees being put forward for election have been decided.
Mrs Foster and Mr Swann held a meeting on Monday evening – just hours after Mrs Foster had talked down the electoral prospects of the UUP in a number of constituencies, and Mr Swann had referred to the DUP leader’s pact comments as “arrogant”.
It is understood that no further meetings took place yesterday – while a UUP source told the News Letter that “there are no more meetings in the diary.”
Lord Kilclooney said: “It’s very simple. The leadership of both unionist parties should calm down and discuss a pact privately and not publicly.”
He added: “Leadership is chaotic at the moment in unionism. They’ve got to cool down.”
He went on to say that it is important “from a national point of view, in other words from London where I am at the moment, for the unionists to demonstrate their strength in Northern Ireland”.
“If they continue to squabble with each other, London will lose interest in Northern Ireland - that’s serious,” he said.
However, he is “not really in favour” of the idea of creating a single unionist party, “because the two parties have distinct messages”.
He added that under the proportional representation system (used for Assembly elections, for example), “you don’t need a single unionist party” because voters can select all pro-Union parties they want in order of preference.
However, at Westminster elections (which use first-past-the-post votes), “it is necessary for cooperation to exist”.
He said that, being a member of the House of Lords, he cannot vote in the general election – but if he did, he would vote for whichever unionist was most likely to win in any given seat: meaning DUP in North and East Belfast, or Tom Elliott in Fermanagh and South Tyrone.
Meanwhile, former Ulster Unionist MLA David McNarry said he was, in general, against electoral pacts – with the possible exception of Fermanagh and South Tyrone, where the battle between the UUP and Sinn Fein has long been on a knife-edge.
Mr McNarry, who later became leader of Ukip in Northern Ireland, said a single unionist party was the way forward.
“If they would only just come to terms with the reality, that unionist unity is the way forward.
“And that’s a big call on the Ulster Unionists, who have no demands to make. They are a beaten party, they are in freefall,” Mr McNarry added.