One of the men who helped set up the Stormont Assembly has said DUP “foolishness” and Arlene Foster’s failure to be polite are to blame for the drop in unionists’ electoral fortunes.
David Trimble, former UUP leader and now a Tory peer, also strongly defended the idea of transferring votes to nationalists, saying the idea that unionists should only vote for other unionists would be tantamount to “self-harming”.
Lord Trimble, one of the key architects of the Good Friday Agreement, described the outcome as “a very bad result for unionism as a whole”.
“If [the DUP] leader had even just been polite in her dealings with people, there wouldn’t have been that huge surge of anger within the nationalist community,” he said.
“Last year, the Sinn Fein vote went down 3%. Nationalists weren’t excited. But they were excited this time. And they came out in force.”
He said that the DUP’s “foolishness” included its axing before Christmas of a £50,000 Irish language grant – something which he described as being a “childish little cut” which had provoked “enormous anger”.
When it comes to the idea transfers from unionists to non-unionists may be partly to blame for the results, he said this is “completely wrong”.
The issue had been brought to the fore by Mike Nesbitt’s pre-election declaration that he would transfer to the SDLP ahead of other unionists.
Arlene Foster condemned this as “dangerous”.
The Belfast Telegraph quoted her as saying that, in the DUP, “we will be transferring to other unionists”.
And after the election, DUP MLA Edwin Poots blamed Ulster Unionist transfer votes to the SDLP for having “ensured that a unionist seat was lost to nationalism” in Lagan Valley.
Lord Trimble said: “The DUP are going around now promulgating what’s actually a self-harming approach of saying you only vote for unionists.
“That’s a self-inflicted wound. Because you are not voting against the Shinners if you don’t transfer to the others.
“You look at the Westminster elections. The SDLP hold three seats; two of them they hold on unionist votes.
“Unionists in Foyle and South Down have for years been voting for the SDLP to keep out Sinn Fein – and it works!”
If Mike Nesbitt had said voters should stick strictly within the unionist family, “the result would have been worse” – because it could have harmed how “transfer-friendly” unionists themselves were.
The DUP was asked to respond to Lord Trimble’s remarks, but at time of writing on Monday night had not done so.