DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds has hit back at critics of the DUP-UUP electoral pact, saying there is “massive support” for the agreement among those who “believe in the union”.
The DUP and UUP caused heated debate this week when they announced they would field only agreed joint candidates for the general election in North and East Belfast and Fermanagh and South Tyrone and Newry and Armagh.
Mr Dodds, the pact candidate for the North Belfast seat he currently holds, yesterday hit back at critics of the deal – among whom have been the Alliance Party, Sinn Fein and the SDLP.
“A pact between unionist parties is not sectarian or divisive,” Mr Dodds said. “It is pragmatic and sensible. Such disparaging labels are lazy. Someone who expresses his or her support for the Union is not sectarian. To be a unionist is to hold a legitimate constitutional view.
“With neither the Labour Party nor the Conservative Party predicted to win an outright majority, the votes of Northern Ireland MPs will be crucial in the next Parliament. As a committed unionist I want to see as many unionist MPs holding the balance of power as possible. A strong block of pro-Union MPs will be able to drive a better deal for Northern Ireland and the Union.”
He added: “Grassroots unionists no matter where I go believe there are too many splits and divisions within unionism. I agree.”
Meanwhile, SDLP leader Dr Alasdair McDonnell claimed the future of Northern Ireland EU farm subsidies are under threat due to revelations of DUP-Ukip talks about a possible referendum on the UK’s EU membership.
“It comes as no surprise to me that the DUP is now getting into bed with Ukip after it instigated such reprehensible electoral pacts with the Ulster Unionists,” he said.
He added: “If we leave the EU, farmers will lose almost 90 per cent of their revenue, which comes directly from single farm payments under the Common Agricultural Policy. Last year Diane Dodds described the single farm payment as being absolutely vital to farming and the economy. “But yesterday Ukip’s deputy leader said he and Peter Robinson would work together in the next Parliament to secure a referendum that ultimately aims to end our links with the EU.”
l Independent Unionist councillor Paul Berry from Armagh has issued a statement to endorse the DUP-UUP choice of Danny Kennedy who has been chosen as an agreed unionist candidate for Newry and Armagh.