Independent unionist MLA Claire Sugden has said she would “consider” starting a new, moderate unionist political party.
The former justice minister believes there is a “gap” for a more socially liberal brand of unionism that is not being served by either the DUP or UUP.
Ms Sugden, who was co-opted to replace the late David McClarty as MLA for East Londonderry after his passing in 2014 before she was elected in her own right in 2016, told the News Letter she didn’t “wake up thinking” she would start a new unionist party.
But she believes much of the Alliance Party’s recent success could be down to the absence of a natural home for those who support the Union but disagree with socially conservative positions adopted by the DUP and UUP.
“When you reflect on the success of Alliance and how that has been allowed to happen, I think they have been able to fill a gap where the current two parties haven’t been,” she said.
“I think the Union is obviously important to people but there are also other issues which are important to them. I think if there was an opportunity for people to vote for a unionist party and for those issues, you might find people might not vote Alliance.”
She added: “I think (the recent success of Alliance) is very much a reflection on the gap that exists for a more moderate unionism.
“Now that’s not a unionism which is moderate on the Union – some people are misunderstanding what I mean by that. It is a unionism that is not moderate on the Union but that is moderate, or liberal, on issues such as equal marriage.
“Ultimately, for me, the best interests of all of the people of Northern Ireland are best served by remaining within the Union.
“But if political parties are not looking at questions of equal marriage, looking at how we improve our governance, then people just won’t vote for them at all. And they’ll look towards parties like Alliance.”
Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster, Ms Sugden said she would “consider” starting a new party.
“If there are people out there who are thinking along those lines, who have the will, the means, the strength to take forward a party – absolutely, come talk to me,” she said. “I will consider everything.”
Asked by TalkBack presenter William Crawley whether she would consider “establishing a party”, she said: “Potentially, yeah.”