TUV conference: Jim Allister says direct rule better than ‘Sinn Fein rule’

Jim Allister has said British direct rule is better than ‘Sinn Fein rule’ even if it means no devolution with local parties no longer controlling Northern Ireland.

By The Newsroom
Sunday, 13th March 2022, 4:24 pm
Updated Sunday, 13th March 2022, 5:01 pm

The TUV leader has also called on pro-Union voters to ask every unionist party canvasser that comes to their doorstep during the forthcoming election if they are prepared or not to “enthrone” Sinn Fein and make Michelle O’Neill first minister.

In an interview with the News Letter at his party’s annual conference in Cookstown at the weekend, Mr Allister said voters would have a “guarantee” from TUV that it will never support a Sinn Fein first minister.

The North Antrim MLA, however, declined to predict the number of gains his party might make in the Assembly elections on May 5.

Jim Allister during his leader's speech to the TUV conference on Saturday

“Sinn Fein will only take the post of first minister if they find a unionist stooge party to take the role of deputy first minister,” he said.

On the choice between direct rule or devolution, Mr Allister said: “To me British rule is better than Sinn Fein rule. That’s really what it all reduces down to.”

He said there was a “very simple question” that all other unionist parties had to answer: “Will you or will you not in those circumstances enthrone and enable Sinn Fein by acting as deputy first minister?”

Mr Allister continued: “If someone can’t answer that question then why would they deserve the vote of someone who wants to make sure that there should not be a Sinn Fein first minister?”

The TUV leader said he wanted this question to be the central one that pro-Union voters put to unionists canvassing them during the election campaign.

Despite his at times blistering criticism at the conference of both the DUP and the UUP, Mr Allister advised unionist voters to put their second and third preferences for pro-Union parties once they had given the TUV number one on the ballot paper.

“In a PR election you have the luxury of choice and I have been very clear about this – vote down the ballot for anyone who ticks the box for being anti-protocol and pro-Union, although of course it’s for the electorate to decide.

“I am inviting people to vote TUV number one and then after that don’t stop there, exercise your franchise and keep voting for pro-Union, anti-protocol candidates down the line.”

Asked what would happen if the protocol was still in place after the Assembly elections in May, Mr Allister said: “The electorate can believe TUV. The TUV will not be Sinn Fein’s bridesmaid and we will not be enabling a Sinn Fein first minister if that situation arises.”

He said the “fear of a Sinn Fein first minister can be laid to rest” if no unionist parties support that possible scenario after the election.

Asked if his unionists rivals will follow the same policy, Mr Allister said: “Well I can only promise for the TUV but I can challenge and I can exhort with respect to others some of whom have a record of saying, ‘vote for us to stop Sinn Fein’ and then they are the very people who partner Sinn Fein in government. So, I think some of these people have a credibility problem in that regard. The TUV does not have that problem and so for people looking for certainty then they have the absolute assurance that if they vote TUV they can be guaranteed their vote will not be used to empower Sinn Fein.”

On the British government’s intentions over negotiations with the EU on the protocol, Mr Allister said: “Of course there is this huge distraction at the moment with Ukraine. But they will only ever change it (the protocol) if it is put upon them that unionism is holding the line. Which is that the thing that is unconscionable, unbearable will not be put up with.

Unionism has made mistakes with the ‘Poots posts’ implementing the protocol. I hope people are learning from those mistakes and we can stand in ‘unalterable objection’ to it as the unionist declaration on Ulster Day stated. That is clear and it means there is no fraying around the edges or tinkering with the protocol, making acceptable something which is catastrophic for the Union. It is an irredeemable fact that it has to go.

“At the end of the day, no system, no imposition, is sustainable if it doesn’t have the consent of the people of Northern Ireland.”