There has been “no diminution” of support for the DUP among voters and the party is “clearing the decks” for an election, a senior party member has claimed.
The British and Irish governments have conceded an election is increasingly likely as Stormont’s power-sharing administration heads for collapse, following the sudden resignation of Martin McGuinness as deputy first minister on Monday.
If Sinn Fein refuses to replace Mr McGuinness as deputy first minister by Monday, then Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire is obliged to call an Assembly election, potentially for late February or early March.
The DUP has called for fresh negotiations to avoid a “brutal” contest but Sinn Fein insisted the matter should be placed before the people.
DUP MP Gregory Campbell expects his party will perform well if an election is called.
But SDLP leader Colum Eastwood claimed the DUP was “desperate to avoid an election”, while TUV leader Jim Allister claimed the party was in “concession mode” to Sinn Fein.
Meanwhile, the Alliance Party rejected calls from the DUP to work on a cross-party basis in a bid to postpone a snap election.
Alliance leader Naomi Long claimed the DUP had approached a party colleague and asked them to join lobbying of Mr Brokenshire to suspend the power-sharing institutions to allow talks between parties to be held.
But the Alliance Party refused the DUP’s request, stating its preference for an election to be held in advance of any talks.
An Alliance Party spokesperson told the News Letter: “In light of the seriousness of the current impasse, we do not believe such a suspension would be adequate to resolve the much deeper crisis in the institutions, which has been exposed by tensions over the RHI scheme, and so this request was refused.
“While we are willing to work with others to see the institutions restored in the remaining time before Monday’s deadline, we are of the view an election is not only increasingly inevitable but may be necessary in advance of any talks, and potentially holds the greatest hope of electing parties who will seek to restore devolution, making the institutions work in the best interests of the public.”
The News Letter asked the Ulster Unionist Party if the DUP had reached out to them to seek support for lobbying Mr Brokenshire.
A spokesperson responded: “There has been no contact from Arlene Foster or any of their leadership team.”
Speaking on BBC’s Talkback on Thursday, DUP MP Gregory Campbell said his party would “participate fully” in an election.
He added: “We are clearing the decks for an election. Our internal assessment of the unionist voting base can be summed up in these words: ‘Who do Sinn Fein think they are? Do they think they can dictate terms to the unionist community?’
“Our polling suggests there is no diminution of support; people are going to come to us who didn’t vote for us before.”
Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan was in Belfast on Thursday to try and avert a poll.
He said: “I believe an election is much closer. The secretary of state on Monday, in my view, will be left with no choice but to dissolve the Assembly and announce an election.”