Reg Empey: Unionists will pay for the DUP/Sinn Fein change to the mechanism for choosing first minister

A letter from Lord Empey:

Letter to the editor
Letter to the editor

I read with interest a letter from Tom Ferguson of Ballymoney (‘Extra candidates will not split the unionist vote but rather boost it,’ March 16, see link below), complaining about comments made by Sammy Wilson MP to the effect that votes for the TUV at the upcoming election would be ‘vote splitting’ and could ‘gift seats to Sinn Fein.’

Mr Ferguson contended that other unionist parties standing would maximise the total unionist vote.

What Tom may have overlooked is that the mechanism now used for determining who would be first minister in the assembly is not what was provided for in the 1998 Agreement.

Under the original proposals, it did not matter which party unionist voters supported, as, if there were more unionist MLAs than nationalist MLAs, it would be the largest unionist party in the unionist designation that would put forward a candidate to the Assembly as first minister.

This was changed in 2006/07 following the St Andrews talks. In order to suit the late Dr Paisley and Martin McGuinness, all reference to the largest party in the largest designation (either unionist or nationalist) was removed and replaced with the largest party in the assembly nominating the first minister. As a result, even if there are more unionists in the Assembly than nationalists, a nationalist could still be first minister!

This was done so that the DUP could try and force unionists to vote for them and not other unionists. This has now backfired on the DUP as they have put their own party political needs ahead of the needs of unionism as a whole. The changes of 2006/07 also removed the ability of unionists to veto a nationalist candidate for first minister, such as Martin McGuinness as a cross community vote was required.

Sammy Wilson and his colleagues have yet again scored an own goal, but ordinary unionists will pay the price.

Lord (Reg) Empey, Westminster

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