The DUP, UUP and TUV leaders each put out statements ahead of the Northern Ireland public casting their vote in today’s Assembly elections.
Sir Jeffrey warned that a divided pro-Union vote will hand victory to those who want a divisive border poll.
He insisted that only a first preference vote for the DUP can stop Sinn Fein’s plans for a constitutional referendum.
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But the DUP leader also urged the pro-Union electorate to “maximise the value of their votes by transferring to other pro-Union candidates” on the ballot paper.
He said each vote, whether they be first preferences or other numbers down the line, will decide which path Stormont takes after polls close tonight.
“The outcome of the Northern Ireland Assembly election is critical to the future of Northern Ireland. Every vote will count,” he said.
Sir Jeffrey said that while Sinn Fein leaders have sought to play down their plan for a border poll “make no mistake, if Sinn Fein wins, their plan for a divisive border poll will be advanced”.
The DUP leader added that the electorate faced a clear choice between the DUP’s five-point plan for coping with the cost-of-living crisis and growing the economy, and Sinn Fein’s quest for a referendum on a united Ireland.
“It is a choice between the DUP who have a record for standing up for Northern Ireland, and delivering more for health, education and investment, and those parties that would let Sinn Fein away with their plans for a divisive border poll plan.”
In his eve of poll message, UUP leader Doug Beattie urged pro-Union voters to get out and cast their ballot in large numbers today.
“Your vote is hard won. Your right to vote came at a cost. Freedom is not free and as recent events in Ukraine have shown, there are forces at work today that would still seek to deny democracy and impose their will by force. In this country all we have to do to change those who govern us is to turn out and vote. That’s why on 5th May, I am asking you to give us your vote, give us your trust and in return the Ulster Unionist Party will give you a brighter future.”
Mr Beattie in his final statement ahead of polling day did not specifically mention the necessity for UUP first preference voters to transfer down the ballot to other pro-Union parties although in previous interviews throughout the election campaign he has called for intra-unionist transfers.
The UUP leader said it was essential that unionism “projects a positive, optimistic image and is recognised as a force for good, confident and at ease with itself”.
On the fate of the political institutions after the election, Mr Beattie said: “Walking away from Stormont won’t solve the problem. The protocol needs to be replaced with a solution that works for everyone so that we can focus on rebuilding the NHS, boosting economic recovery and tackling the rising cost of living. Politicians should not be abandoning their posts at this time.”
TUV leader Jim Allister said that if voters wanted to stand up to Sinn Fein they should vote TUV number one.
He has advised unionist voters throughout the election campaign that after giving TUV first preference they should vote for pro-Union parties in order of their choice.
Mr Allister urged people to “vote TUV 1 in the sure and certain knowledge that in the position to do so, we will unashamedly block a Sinn Fein first minister, by refusing to nominate a deputy.”
He described this political battle as “a vital election for unionism” because Mr Allister said unionists for too long had been on the back foot.
“Now is the time to fight back. Voting for the same again will bring more of the same. The same rollover and concessions which has weakened unionism at every turn. The same selfish preference for power over principle. It’s time for unionism to stand firm,” he said.
Mr Allister continued: “If you want to stand up to Sinn Fein, don’t waste your first preference on those who have partnered Sinn Fein in government for years and who will do so again. Instead vote TUV 1 for MLAs who will resist Sinn Fein all the time, not just at election time.
“If you want to be heard loudest and clearest on the iniquitous protocol, then don’t waste your first preference vote on those who were accepting of a regulatory border in the Irish Sea and who built and still operate the shameful ‘Poots Posts’. Vote instead No 1 TUV, the party that called it right from day one and led the fight.”
• In the print edition of today’s News Letter, we wrongly stated that Mr Allister “had urged pro-Union supporters not to ‘waste their vote’ giving a second, third, fourth preference to those parties who ‘won’t tell if they will be Sinn Fein’s bridesmaid’ if the republican party emerges as the largest political force after votes are counted”.
This was an editorial error. We not only accept that it was incorrect, but that Mr Allister has consistently called for unionists to transfer to other unionist candidates after voting TUV 1. Indeed, we have welcomed such calls in our editorials.
We apologise to Mr Allister for the error.
As stated in this web article, the TUV’s position is clearly for voters to vote TUV number one, and then continue to vote down the ballot paper for other pro-Union parties in order of their preference.