Ed Jacobs asks whether, with continuing calls for a joint unionist party, there is any point in the UUP's independent existence.
Just weeks after Ulster Unionist leader, Tom Elliott rejected calls from the Conservatives for his party to merge with theirs and he has once again been forced to take to the press to stave off another challenge posed to the viability of an independent UUP.
“We are in a year when we are looking back to the centenary of the signing of the covenant and the cohesiveness that there was within the unionist community at that time.
“I would like to see that coming about again. I think you probably will have noted that over the last number of months, some of the heat that there has been in the exchanges between the DUP and the Ulster Unionists has now been removed and there is a much improved relationship. I hope we can build on that.”
Pressed about whether that meant a single unionist party in Northern Ireland, Robinson replied:
“I have no difficulty in saying that of course I would like to see that, but very often if you start putting that out you start causing problems for other people.
“Let’s just improve the relationship we have, build on that relationship and who knows where it might lead.“
Responding however, UUP Leader, Tom Elliott, whilst making clear is desire for greater co-operation between unionist parties has made clear his rejection of a full scale merger, concluding:
“I have always questioned whether or not a single party would deliver the required electoral success for unionism.
“For example, the choice provided by the existence of the UUP, DUP and TUV may actually encourage more unionist voters to go to the polls.
“Certainly an agreed pro-union Westminster candidate in Fermanagh and South Tyrone in 2010 did not maximise unionist voter turnout and actually polled fewer votes than the Ulster Unionist and the DUP got between them at both the 2011 local government and Assembly elections.“
The latest attempt at a full scale merger will heighten still further how the UUP can, on its own, break through once again and become a major player at Stormont, in an Assembly in which they had, under David Trimble, been the largest single party.
Whilst Elliott is showing some grit in bating off attempts at a merger both from David Cameorn and Peter Robinson, it does beg the question: What is the point in an independent UUP and what does it give to Northern Ireland that the DUP doesn’t?
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• Tories and UUP split over merger deal – Ed Jacobs, January 5th 2012
• How does Northern Ireland achieve reconciliation in 2012? – Ed Jacobs, January 3rd 2012
• Preview 2012 – Northern Ireland – Ed Jacobs, December 30th 2011
• UUP-Tory alliance a “mongrel relationship” – Ed Jacobs, March 12th 2010
• Latest from Northern Ireland – Ed Jacobs, November 23rd 2009