Only 15% of UUP want to merge with DUP

There is no significant appetite within the Ulster Unionist Party for a merger with the DUP, the academic study of that party’s membership has found.

Less than 15% of UUP members told researchers that they wanted the two main unionist parties to come together and form a single entity, while a slightly larger percentage of 16.7% wanted to see the two parties remain entirely separate.

Arlene Foster and Robin Swann. The UUP membership does not favour a merger between the parties

Arlene Foster and Robin Swann. The UUP membership does not favour a merger between the parties

The vast bulk of the UUP, however, expressed support for a series of proposals which would involve cooperation between the parties, whether at Westminster elections, Assembly elections, council elections or whenever it suited the UUP to do so.

When asked which party they disliked, unsurprisingly some 95% said Sinn Féin. However, the DUP was disliked by a hefty 53.7% of UUP members, ahead of the number of members who dislike the SDLP (46.5%), the Alliance Party (48.2%) or the TUV (32.9%).

That dislike of the DUP comes despite what the book described as a “lack of clear policy differences” between the two unionist parties.

Former South Antrim UUP MLA Adrian Cochrane-Watson, viewed as a UUP hardliner, told the authors: “I viewed the DUP as a bunch of idiots, a bunch of bigots—which they still are.

“They can wear nice suits, they can drive fancy cars — bigots, that’s all they are.

“I’ve seen DUP members at council who, when we appointed a new officer, would whisper in my ear, ‘is she one of us Adrian?’”

And the book emphasises how deeply felt is the fissure between the two parties’ members. Mark Cosgrove, who is now the UUP treasurer and the leader of the party group on Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council, told the authors: “I was with my 7-year-old daughter waving a little yes flag outside Waterfront Hall in Belfast and was confronted by a screaming Loyalist mob ... I joined the UUP the following Monday.

“The mob literally terrorised my daughter and I thought we cannot go on with another 30 years of this type of bitterness and sectarianism.”

The book also reveals that although neither the DUP nor the UUP have a significant number of Catholic members, it is the DUP which has marginally more Catholic members – despite the fact that its founder, the late Ian Paisley, denounced the Roman Catholic Church while the UUP had a senior Catholic member in Sir John Gorman more than 20 years ago.

Just 0.3% of the UUP is Catholic, according to the study, while Catholics make up 0.6% of the DUP membership.

l The Ulster Unionist Party: Country Before Party is published by Oxford University Press and is out now.