Northern Ireland: Are the unionists running scared in Mid-Ulster?

As the political circus continues to analyse to death the results of the Eastleigh by-election, in Northern Ireland the unionist unity candidate for next week’s Mid-Ulster by-election is being accused of running scared.

As the political circus continues to analyse to death the results of the Eastleigh by-election, in Northern Ireland the unionist unity candidate for next week’s Mid-Ulster by-election is being accused of running scared.

Last night’s edition of BBC Northern Ireland’s The View  was supposed to have held a debate between the four candidates standing in next week’s poll, triggered by the resignation by Martin McGuinness of his Westminster seat.

In the event, however, just the SDLP and Alliance candidates participated, with the BBC reporting that Nigel Lutton, chosen as a joint DUP/UUP unity candidates to take on Sinn Fein, had opted not to appear on the grounds that he wanted to concentrate his efforts on canvassing in the constituency.

This in turn led Sinn Fein candidate Francie Molloy to pull out on the basis that the original agreement had been premised on all four candidates being present to debate against each other.

SDLP candidate, Patsy McGlone dubbed the decision to withdraw to be “truly bizarre”, whilst the Alliance’s Eric Bullick, in the BBC’s words, “expressed dismay that the public had not been given the chance to hear the views of their candidates.”

Lutton’s decision, however, was not an isolated one, with the Newsletter reporting that Lutton’s campaign Facebook page had deleted a number of questions put to him by voters in the constituency on issues such as the recent flag protests and whether he was in favour of Sinn Fein being allowed to be in government.

Comments also raised concerns that questions were not being answered with one of those who posted a question, Amanda Sherrard, making clear that she had not removed her postings.

She told the Newsletter:

“I had asked him what he thought of the flag protests and if he supported them. I also asked him if he would be sitting with Sinn Fein or be a puppet of the DUP and UUP.

“I wanted him to tell the people of Mid Ulster why we should vote for him as he hasn’t been near my house canvassing. I’m raging that they have removed my comments as there are a lot of people in Mid Ulster who want answers.”

The paper has gone on to report that despite it being a major unionist paper supporting his candidacy, Lutton has refused to undertake a face-to-face interview to explain his policies or his political vision.

As the paper concludes:

“The strategy being adopted by the two unionist parties in refusing interviews is unusual. Political parties typically hope that journalists will give their candidate coverage during election campaigns.”

The developments come as unionist rebels Basil McCrea and John McCallister confirmed that they intend to form a new unionist party following their resignation from the UUP over its decision to field a unity candidate with the DUP.

Writing in the Belfast Telegraph they explain:

“It is time for a confident, generous, progressive pro-Union party to step forward and build support for a modern Northern Ireland.”

Arguing that peace in Northern Ireland was now under threat as a result of flag protests, dissident activity, economic austerity and rising unemployment, they continued:

“The decision to run a unionist unity candidate in the Mid Ulster by-election will do little to improve the situation.

“In fact it will make matters worse. It will polarise our communities, increase tension and reinforce the political domination of the DUP and Sinn Fein.”

Declaring that a new “political dynamic” was needed in Northern Ireland, they pledged to establish a new party, concluding:

Many people are disillusioned with the current political process. A significant number have encouraged us to start a new party. If the existing political parties were the answer this would not be the case.”

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today. 

Leave a Reply