A senior Alliance figure has said a statement from a loyalist paramilitary-linked group attacking his party is “a badge of honour”.
On Monday the Loyalist Communities Council – whose principal members are the UDA, UVF and Red Hand Commando – issued a statement urging support for unionist candidates, and backing DUP candidates over their UUP rivals in South Belfast and East Belfast.
The statement added: “The LCC particularly warns all unionists and loyalists against voting for Alliance Party candidates...no party does more to undermine the Britishness of Northern Ireland, and foment community mistrust and division than the Alliance Party.
“Any unionist who votes for the Alliance Party is driving a nail into the coffin of the Union. This party must be rejected at the polls by all unionists and loyalists.”
The issue was raised with DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds in Monday night’s UTV debate. He said that the DUP firmly rejected paramilitarism but, when invited to explicitly decline the LCC endorsement declined to do so.
However, after that debate former UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said: “As a candidate I wish to state I did not ask for nor do I accept the LCC statement of support”.
That was followed by a UUP statement yesterday morning which said: “We have not asked for the support of paramilitary organisations nor do we want the backing of organisations still engaged in paramilitary or criminal activity.”
Then, on BBC Radio Ulster’s Talkback programme at lunch time yesterday the DUP’s Sir Jeffrey Donaldson was pressed on the issue. He said that the DUP had not asked for the endorsement and added: “We do not want the support of anyone, any organisation, that continues to be involved in paramilitary or criminal activity.”
Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry said: “In some ways, we take this as a badge of honour because we are the polar opposite of what the paramilitaries stand for.”
TUV press officer Sammy Morrison said of the LCC statement: “This nonsense damages all unionist parties in the eyes of a significant section of the electorate”.
He added: “Cuddling up to paramilitaries is the road to no town electorally.”
PSNI called in as dirty tricks target Ritchie
A dirty tricks campaign is targeting the SDLP’s Margaret Ritchie whose seat is believed to be the most vulnerable of the three which are held by the SDLP.
The South Down representative yesterday contacted police over a fake letter which purports to be from her and which is being distributed in the constituency.
The letter is particularly damaging to Mrs Ritchie because to have any hope of retaining the seat she will need unionist tactical votes and the letter attacks unionist representatives, including the DUP’s Jim Wells.
It also claims that Mrs Ritchie’s vision is to see the holding of a border poll within five years.
Mrs Ritchie said that the letter – which was mocked up to include her image and signature – was “an attack on the community in South Down and on the integrity of our democratic process in this Westminster election”.
She said: “I have been an MP for everyone in South Down.
“Anyone who knows me will know that my door is open to those of all faiths, political and social backgrounds.”
And, alluding to the fact that her main rival, Sinn Fein’s Chris Hazzard, would not enter the House of Commons if he is elected, Mrs Ritchie added: “My campaign has been based on my record of delivery for local people, ensuring that they have strong representation and real representation at home and at Westminster.”
The former SDLP leader said her constituents “know my character and my passion for all the people in South Down and we will not be deterred”.
The letter is remarkably similar to the one circulated in the neighbouring Newry and Armagh constituency ahead of March’s Assembly election.
It purported to be from the UUP’s Danny Kennedy.
He ultimately lost his seat.