Unionist election unity chance recedes

Willie Frazer
Willie Frazer

THE DUP has said it intends to fight the Mid-Ulster by-election and victims’ campaigner Willie Frazer has also said he will stand – reducing the chances of a unionist unity candidate.

However, TUV leader Jim Allister said his party was not intending to field a candidate in the by-election caused by Martin McGuinness’s resignation as an MP, despite the constituency being one of the party’s strongest areas.

Speculation that the UUP and DUP may agree a single candidate has increased in recent weeks as UUP leader Mike Nesbitt has repeatedly refused to say that a UUP candidate will definitely stand.

Mr Nesbitt has instead said that someone with “Ulster Unionist values” will contest the election, leaving the door open to a unity candidate.

In an interview on Tuesday night, Mr Nesbitt complained that journalists were only asking him whether the UUP would stand a candidate and were not questioning other parties about their intentions.

When contacted by the News Letter yesterday, the DUP said it intended to contest the election.

A DUP spokesman said: “We will make a firm recommendation to our Mid-Ulster Constituency Association that the party should contest the election.”

When asked whether the TUV would field a candidate, Mr Allister told the News Letter: “At this moment, no. It’s unlikely.”

Mr Frazer, a south Armagh victims’ campaigner, said that he would fight the by-election – and would stand even if there was a unity candidate, unless he was convinced that the candidate could win.

“If a united candidate could achieve something, I would take that into consideration and may stand aside,” he said.

“But if it is just a case of a united candidate standing but with no chance of winning, then I wouldn’t stand aside.

“The feelings I’m picking up from people on the ground in Mid-Ulster is that a lot of people are saying they are sick and tired of nobody standing up and speaking out.

“If people are as sickened as they say, they could send a message to politicians to buck their ideas up.”

A unionist hasn’t held Mid-Ulster since its boundaries were redrawn and the then MP, William McCrea, lost his seat to Mr McGuinness in 1997.

In last year’s Assembly election, Sinn Fein took almost half of the total vote. The DUP polled 16.7 per cent of the vote, the UUP got 10.3 per cent and the TUV 4.9 per cent.

If the three unionist parties’ votes were added together from last year’s election, it would still only have been 31.9 per cent of the vote.