Analysis: TUV could gain a councillor, but DUP could gain much more

UKIP Leader Nigel Farage campaigning with Henry Reilly in 2011.'Picture: Arthur Allison
UKIP Leader Nigel Farage campaigning with Henry Reilly in 2011.'Picture: Arthur Allison

Even before it has become clear whether or not Henry Reilly will part ways with Ukip, there is speculation that he could join the TUV.

The Kilkeel councillor, who like David McNarry is a former Ulster Unionist, has long been politically close to the TUV and Jim Allister’s party did not field a candidate against him in South Down at the last Assembly election in 2011.

On Wednesday night, just hours after the news that he had quit as Ukip’s Northern Ireland chairman emerged, Mr Reilly pointedly praised Mr Allister.

Responding on his Facebook page to a comment which urged him to join the TUV, the Kilkeel councillor said: “One thing is for sure that Jim Allister is one of the most decent, honourable and able people in our country and a genuine and committed unionist.”

The compliment was reciprocated by Mr Allister’s assistant and press officer, Sammy Morrison, who wrote publicly online: “Henry is a good man and a true Euro sceptic. That cannot be said about the Ukip representation in the Assembly.”

Mike Nesbitt might also seek to court the former Ulster Unionist, who has an unusually high personal vote for a councillor.

In last year’s council election, Mr Reilly polled almost 2,000 first preference votes, the best Ukip result in Northern Ireland.

With the UUP out of the Executive and seemingly headed in a direction where they may attempt to outflank the DUP on the right, the party might be more attractive to Mr Reilly than it was when he left.

Nevertheless, accepting back a veteran known for his fiery rhetoric would be a risk for Mr Nesbitt.

In broader terms, however, the major winners if Ukip tears itself apart in Northern Ireland are likely to be the DUP.

Over recent years as Ukip has consistently grown it has undoubtedly attracted some non-voters and some non-unionist voters. But its rise appears to have had a particular impact on the DUP. Several DUP members – either elected representatives or constituency workers – have moved across in recent years.

And Ukip’s Bob Stoker took enough votes in South Belfast in May to prevent the DUP’s Jonathan Bell from becoming an MP.

In the short term, Mr Allister might gain a councillor but Peter Robinson could gain much more.