Jim Allister has said that Peter Robinson’s looming retirement from politics will not reduce his appetite for challenging the DUP.
The TUV leader, whose party will meet in Templepatrick on Saturday for its annual conference, said that he is “definitely standing, God willing” for re-election to the Assembly in May.
Some observers believe that Mr Allister has been driven not just by opposition to the DUP’s stance on being in government with Sinn Fein but by opposition personally to Mr Robinson. The pair have had a particularly frosty relationship over recent years.
But in an interview with the News Letter yesterday, Mr Allister moved to scotch any suggestion that in the wake of the DUP leader’s retirement he is now considering his own future.
“I would like to think I’m motivated by an aversion to the arrangements which are a perversion of due democratic process...that’s what motivates me. So far as Peter Robinson epitomises that, in that he has been a poacher turned gamekeeper for that sort of arrangement and whether that adds any edge to it; but it’s the policies, not the personalities.
“It seems to me that the DUP have bought into the idea of sustaining the IRA in government.”
Mr Allister said that the events of recent months had “vindicated” much of what his party has long said about the continued existence of the IRA and the now accepted fact that decommissioning was incomplete.
He argued that “the DUP’s crime is worse than Trimble’s” because the party had previously argued against the then UUP leader for doing what they have now done – sitting in government with Sinn Fein while the IRA retains weapons.
Mr Allister has long been a champion of the need for a Stormont Opposition and now there are two potential avenues to achieve some form of Opposition - either via John McCallister’s private member’s bill or the less radical changes agreed between the DUP and Sinn Fein in last week’s deal.
“Neither are my template, but the McCallister bill is much stronger and therefore more attractive than the fudge really that is in the Stormont House Agreement...the opposition it gives is very neutered and it’s very restrictive in terms of who can exercise those functions so I think it’s the de minimis approach which comes from the mentality such as we heard last week in the chamber from Mr Maskey of Sinn Fein who said that you shouldn’t be allowed to have Opposition at all; everyone in this house should be required to support the government.
“That sort of totalitarian attitude which used to get people a bullet in the knee or worse still seems to prevail in some of the political Apparatchiks in Sinn Fein.”
Yesterday the expelled Belfast DUP councillor Ruth Patterson said that she intends to stay as an independent, rather than join the TUV. Mr Allister said that he “admires the way that she has stood up against the DUP”.
But Mr Allister made clear that anyone who joins the party would have to accept its policy, a reference to Cllr Patterson’s statement last week that she did not share her party’s stance on gay rights.
The DUP leader has suggested that he would be happy for its members to vote in line with their conscience if they support gay marriage or liberalising the abortion laws.
But Mr Allister said that his party would not allow a free vote on those issues and said that “support for family values” is a founding principle of the TUV.
Our General Election results were bad, admits TUV leader
When it was put to Mr Allister that he couldn’t possibly say that May’s Westminster election result was a good one for the TUV, he said: “No. I suppose we always knew that a Westminster election is the most difficult territory for us because it’s an election really where bigger parties are going to get the traction as opposed to smaller parties.”
The TUV polled 16,538 votes across seven seats – less than the vote for Lady Hermon in North Down.
The party was also behind Ukip, which polled 18,324 across 10 seats, but Mr Allister said that he believed the Assembly election was “better territory” for his party and gave voters a chance to give their verdict on the last five years of Stormont.
He said the arrival of Henry Reilly, Ukip’s former chairman in Northern Ireland, was a big boost for the party and added of the election: “Obviously we need to grow...certainly I don’t want to be back here alone.”