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Armagh Peer warns against move towards Unionist unity

Thursday, 16 March 2017

AN Armagh Peer, who was one of the architects of the Belfast Agreement, has claimed the re-establishment of the United Ulster Unionist Council (UUUC) would be a mistake.

And Lord Kilclooney insists one united Unionist party could 'contribute to religious headcounting and deter non-Protestant voters from supporting pro-Union candidates.'

On the back of the successes by Sinn Fein at the recent Assembly election combined with the poor performance of the UUP there have been a number of calls for Unionist unity.

Last week DUP Leader, Arlene Foster said she believed the time is right for Unionist unity or at least a pact on vote transfers between pro-Union parties.

At the weekend former South Antrim UUP MLA, David Burnside said: "The present pressures, divisions and weaknesses within Unionism and the electoral resurgence of Irish Republicanism demand the reformation of the United Ulster Unionist Council.

Speaking in the News Letter Mr Burnside added: "Whilst one should not over exaggerate the crisis within Unionism, the recent Assembly election results were not good for Unionism as a whole and the cause of Unionism against the successful advances of Sinn Fein and Irish republicanism."

He believes both main Unionist leaders made mistakes in the recent election campaign which damaged Unionism and resulted in the poor outcome of the recent Assembly election.

"If Unionists do not transfer votes to other Unionists in PR elections we will lose our overall majority in councils and at Stormont.

"For Westminster we need a pact in every constituency. We need total Unionist co-operation so there is no vote splitting.

"The DUP and the UUP I believe should re-establish the United Ulster Unionist Council which would be the flagship, united banner of all Unionists in all future elections and in a referendum campaign if a border poll on the Union is ever called by the Secretary of State.

"True Unionists should always work for Unionist unity. The beauty of reformation of the UUUC is that the DUP and UUP would still retain their legal registered party names, party organisations, constituency and branch associations, financial and membership structure but when it came to voting in elections all candidates in Westminster, Stormont and local councils would stand as United Unionists with a strong and powerful message that all unionist voters should vote right down the ballot paper in PR elections."

But Lord Kilclooney fundamentally disagrees with the assertion that the time is right for Unionist unity.

"Originally the decision on the constitutional future of Northern Ireland was vested in the Northern Ireland Parliament," said the former Deputy Leader of the UUP.

"But with the splintering of Unionism those of us who negotiated the Belfast Agreement realised that the best way to maximise the pro-Union vote was to have an STV Proportional Representative Process to the Stormont Assembly.

"This means that one can vote for all shades of Unionist candidates and then go further and vote for the more reasonable candidates from other parties ensuring that those candidates who are Sinn Fein come last.

"It is clear to me that there are still many Unionist voters who still do not realise that it is better to vote for as many candidates as possible.

"Many Unionist voters need further advice about how to use the electoral system to the advantage of Northern Ireland.

"The calls for a united Unionist party or UUUC are misplaced. There are some DUP voters who dislike the UUP and some UUP voters who dislike the DUP. With STV each of them can vote for both and thus maximise the Unionist majority.

"Likewise voters of all religions or none can select pro-Union candidates as they prefer.

"One united Unionist party could contribute to a religious headcounting and deter non-Protestant voters from supporting pro-Union candidates."

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