Assembly election: DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson says party not using scare tactics over border poll threat

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has insisted pro-Union voters are focused on the danger of Sinn Fein’s agenda for a border poll if the republican party emerges as the largest party after the election.

Sir Jeffrey said the DUP was not in the business “of scaring anyone” but simply reflecting the deep concerns of unionists about Sinn Fein’s plans for a constitutional referendum if they return to the Assembly with the most seats.

Speaking at the launch of the DUP’s manifesto at a factory in Craigavon on Thursday, he said the party would like to eventually see a system of voluntary coalition at Stormont.

“I think we do need to see change. We would like to see reform of how our political institutions operate.”

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson during the party's manifesto launch at A J Power in Craigavon on Thursday

He said future voluntary coalition should be “on the basis of a concise agreed coalition plan that can subsequently be augmented by a more comprehensive Programme for Government and supported by weighted majorities in the Assembly.”

Sir Jeffrey continued: “I believe the DUP are going to win this election, but suppose Mary Lou McDonald or Michelle O’Neill are standing up next week to declare a Sinn Fein victory, does anyone seriously believe that in their victory speech the border poll issue won’t be front and centre? I am simply alerting people to that reality and giving them a clear choice in this election.”

The DUP’s manifesto includes pledges to invest an extra £1 billion in the local NHS to cut hospital waiting lists in partnership with the independent health sector, and supporting the creation of 20,000 new jobs over the next five years.

Challenged on the use of negative tactics in the election, Sir Jeffrey said: “Look, this is not about scaring anyone. It is about pointing out the real choice that people have in this election.

“We are not inventing this. Right at the heart of the Sinn Fein manifesto is their demand for a date for a border poll.

“Before the election they were off to the States and they were publishing big adverts in the Washington Post and in the New York Times. What is that all about if it is not about preparing their supporters in Irish America for their next big push.

“It is not about helping ordinary households who are worried about how they are going to pay their energy bills, it is not about sorting out the issues around the protocol, it is not about fixing the health service, it is about pushing their agenda for a border poll and a united Ireland.”

The DUP leader added: “We are simply pointing out that is the choice in this election.

“I make no apology for pointing out the glaringly obvious in this election campaign.

“While we are focusing on the issues which matter to ordinary people, they are focusing on their real agenda which is to pursue their plans for a border poll.”

The DUP collapsed the power-sharing Executive at Stormont earlier this year in protest at the post-Brexit protocol and have stated that they will not re-enter government until it is replaced.

Sir Jeffrey claimed the DUP had championed the Province’s rural communities and had secured £75 million in Covid-19 crisis support for the agri-food sector.