THE concept of unionist ‘unity’ candidates has divided political opinion in Upper Bann, following the move by the DUP and Ulster Unionists to choose Portadown undertaker Nigel Lutton to fight Sinn Fein’s Francie Molloy in Mid Ulster in the March 7 Westminster election.
With Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness having vacated the Mid Ulster seat, Mr Lutton (42), who isn’t a member of any political party, was unanimously selected by separate meetings of the two main unionist parties last Thursday.
Upper Bann MP David Simpson said this week that the time had come for his constituency to follow suit. “At the last general election (2010), the unionists had around 60 per cent of the vote and SF/SDLP a 40 per cent share,” he said. “The latest ratios are tighter, and it’s getting to the stage that we can’t afford to split the unionist vote, as it would open the door to Sinn Fein. That would be wrong and futile as they don’t even occupy their seats when they’re elected to Westminster.
“A look at the 2010 poll shows that David Simpson (14,000 votes, 33.8 per cent) took the seat, even though UUP’s Harry Hamilton (10,639, 25.7 per cent) gained the highest number of votes of any of our party candidates. SF’s John O’Dowd was third on 10,237 (24.7 per cent) and Dolores Kelly (SDLP) polled 5,237 (12.8 per cent). The seat’s safe.”
“Those figures show that the time has come for a unity candidate in Upper Bann,” added Mr Simpson. “The SDLP are losing out to Sinn Fein, and the gap is closing even more, based on the population trends.”
Mr Simpson’s views come in the wake of Banbridge’s Ulster Unionist councillors expressing their disappointment at the resignation of MLAs John McCallister and Basil McCrea over the Unionist decision in Mid-Ulster.
In a joint statement they said, “The seven Ulster Unionist councillors on Banbridge District Council are very disappointed in the decision taken by John McCallister and Basil McCrea to resign from the party, their reason being that the leader and officers decided to approve a unity candidate for the Mid-Ulster Westminster election.
“This was to us, as councillors, a necessary step, but does not mean that the Ulster Unionist Party will merge with any other party, including the Democratic Unionist Party.
“Basil McCrea and John McCallister’s decision is an unwelcome distraction, as Ulster Unionist councillors will continue to work for and serve all constituents who need help.
Their views were shared by Ulster Unionist MLA Jo-Anne Dobson, who said the decision by the now Independent Unionists was ‘disappointing.’
She said, “There are times when the country and the union need to be put before the party and self. It is clear that in taking his decision John does not agree with this principle.
“I am confused by John’s decision as this is not the first time a joint candidate has been chosen in the best interests of maximising the overall unionist vote.
“The decision lay solely with members in the Mid-Ulster constituency and it is disappointing that John decided to tender his resignation before the final decision was even taken.
“It is no secret that I did not subscribe to John’s views when he put his name forward to lead the party in 2011.
“I joined with the overwhelming majority, some 80%, of the party which backed Mike Nesbitt.”
We asked you for your thoughts on this story on Facebook - here’s what you had to say:
Connaire McGreevy - “We need to move away from the trenches and have a normalised political spectrum divided by policy on bread and butter issues. Unionist unity will not put food on the table or heat in the homes of everyone.”
“James Kerr - “So David wants to make me a disenfranchised voter by removing choice from the ballot paper...”
David Martin - “He’s just saying that to spook the UUP. They’re strong in Upper Bann and he probably want to see what sort of a reaction he gets.”