TUV leader Jim Allister confident he will have ‘significant company’ in next Assembly

Jim Allister tells News Letter Political Editor HENRY McDONALD he believes the TUV will make a real breakthrough at the election

Jim Allister was barely through the glass double-doors of the Museum of Orange Heritage on Belfast’s Cregagh Road before he met his first lunchtime convert.

A man in his mid-to-late 60s approached the Traditional Unionist Voice leader, extended his hand and informed him that he had his vote.

“I’m a military veteran and I’m fed up with the DUP, you’re getting my vote this time Jim,” the man said, before merging back into the throng inside the packed Schomberg House cafe.

Jim Allister, leader of the TUV, being interviewed by News Letter Political Editor Henry McDonald.

Having just arrived in East Belfast after a morning canvass in the south of the city, Mr Allister and his election team were seeking sustenance as well as votes in a museum adorned with Orange regalia, historical exhibits and two ornately-decorated Lambeg drums.

Over a bowl of stew, Mr Allister explained what success or failure would mean for the TUV on May 5.

“I’m not going to quantify that but to come back with none would be total failure, to come back with one would be relative failure, but I don’t believe either of those are going to happen.

“I am coming back, I believe, with significant company.”

He accepted that if he did return to a new Assembly still as the sole TUV representative then “that would be relative failure and, of course, I wouldn’t hide from that”.

Pressed on the number of TUV MLAs after the election, Mr Allister replied: “We will leave that to the electorate to decide but I think the electorate know this - the stronger they make the TUV the more honest they make others because we keep them in check and thus the more guarantees the voters have of the defence of the Union.”

In between sips of the steaming hot bowl of stew, the TUV leader ponders on one possible post-election scenario: unionism defies the opinion polls, wins the Assembly election and the Government in London triggers Article 16 to suspend the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Wouldn’t that be enough for Jim Allister to support the DUP and others forming a new Executive?

His immediate reaction was apposite given the location.

“I suspect that they (the DUP) would dearly like to see Article 16 triggered before the election and then they would probably proclaim it as the greatest victory since the Boyne!”

Mr Allister said he believed triggering Article 16 after the election would not be enough to justify unionists agreeing to a new power-sharing coalition.

“It’s not enough because that still leaves you with the Protocol hanging over you with the distinct possibility that it could come back in full force at any moment. It has to go in full because it is such a fundamental assault on the constitutional position of Northern Ireland.

“I think people have to be realistic and understand that Article 16 is, in fact, part of the Protocol itself and is not in the business of the destruction of the Protocol.

“It is only in the business of tweaking the Protocol and applying it differently, but no matter how it’s tweaked the fundamental question is, are we still in a foreign single market and foreign customs regime? Is GB still regarded as a foreign country? If the answer is that GB is still a foreign country and we are in a foreign market outside of the UK, then the Protocol issue has not been resolved.”

While he has called for unionist unity at the ballot box, on the streets the divisions within unionism were on open display the Friday before Easter week at the anti-Protocol rally in Lurgan.

Although an unapologetic supporter of ongoing anti-Protocol rallies, Mr Allister did express concern about some of the language being deployed, especially the words “traitor” and “Lundy” levelled at Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie. The former Army officer pulled the UUP out of the anti-Protocol rallies, claiming the protests were being used to heighten tensions and to attack the Belfast Agreement.

“I don’t think that is appropriate language against a fellow unionist, just as I didn’t think it was appropriate for the DUP way back in the past to call James Molyneaux (the late UUP leader) ‘Judas Iscariot’. I think that’s language that should not be deployed. I think that was wrong then and is now.

“But I have said people are understandably disappointed with Doug Beattie on his weakness on the Protocol, and so they should be. So, the way to manifest that is how they order their preferences on election day. That’s how you send the message to Doug Beattie of your rejection of his weakness in respect to the Protocol.”

Despite his differences with Mr Beattie, the TUV leader quickly added: “I would rather see Doug Beattie elected than John O’Dowd (Sinn Fein) elected in Upper Bann, even though I think Mr Beattie has lost his way on the Protocol. His weakness is encouraging to Brussels and London who don’t want to do anything about the Protocol. The unionist electorate needs to vote for those like TUV who will discomfort Brussels and London.”

Mr Allister was bullish when it was suggested his preference for no devolution under the mandatory coalition system would only lead back to a direct rule administration from London loaded with bias towards Irish nationalism.

“Well, what have we got under Stormont rule? We can’t even get a Centenary Stone to mark 100 years of Northern Ireland because of Sinn Fein rule at Stormont.

“If the choice you are putting to me is British rule or Sinn Fein rule, which would I choose? I’ve no difficulty which one I would choose!

“This Stormont is only able to exist by the grace and favour of Sinn Fein, which is a party there not to make Northern Ireland work.

“So this system is never going to deliver for unionism when there are things like two-tier policing and the physical neglect, especially of working class unionist areas.”

See also: