UUP’s pact with DUP ‘gives mixed message’

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THE Ulster Unionists have blundered by entering a pact with the DUP, a former party veteran and one of the party’s senior MLAs have said.

Within hours of it becoming clear that the DUP was to lose control of what had been Peter Robinson’s council powerbase, the two parties entered a pact to jointly run the council.

But, writing in today’s News Letter, the party’s former director of communications, Alex Kane, says that the move sends out “mixed messages” following an Ulster Unionist campaign focused on its opposition to the DUP.

And last night the man who lost to Tom Elliott in last year’s UUP leadership contest, Basil McCrea, said that he “agrees with Alex’s analysis”.

Mr McCrea said that the party needs to convince voters that it is different from other parties: “I accept it is right for people to have coalitions with people they have similarities with, but one has to be careful that such a move is not in conflict with one’s message.”

Veteran UUP councillor in Castlereagh Michael Copeland – who was elected to the assembly last week – declined to comment on the pact when contacted by the News Letter.

Michael Henderson, the UUP group leader on the council, was unable to be contacted.

With 11 councillors, the DUP is still the largest party on the council which borders south east Belfast and where the DUP has prided itself on maintaining the lowest household rates of any council in Northern Ireland.

The UUP has lost another councillor on the council to return with three, while Alliance has increased its representation to six, the SDLP retains two and the Greens have won a seat.

In a statement released through the DUP press office, Mr Henderson and DUP group leader Jimmy Spratt said that they had been considering the move prior to the election.

They said that the two parties would sit together and take the same whip, meaning that they would effectively operate as a single party on the council, and called for similar arrangements in other councils.

But Mr Kane said that it “looks like pointless revenge motivated by sour grapes” against the Alliance Party, something which he argued would make it more difficult to win back its voters who had switched to Alliance.

Alliance has rounded on the UUP for the move, with Alliance councillor Geraldine Rice accusing the party of acting out of fear of her party’s rising vote.