Call for ‘greater co-operation’ to maximise unionist vote in elections

Unionist leaders need to show “greater co-operation” to maximise success in future elections, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has suggested.

Faced with the prospect of Sinn Fein becoming the largest party in councils as well as the Assembly, unionist leaders have also raised concerns about lower numbers of people in unionist areas coming out to vote.

DUP MLA Edwin Poots said the local government elections results were a “wake-up-and-smell-the-coffee moment” for unionism.

Northern Ireland council elections
The DUP’s Edwin Poots said it was a ‘wake-up-and-smell- the-coffee moment’ for unionism (Liam McBurney/PA)

As counting continues, Sinn Fein is poised to repeat the electoral domination it first displayed in last year’s Assembly election.

While the DUP will retain its position as the largest unionist party, its share of first preference votes has slipped 7% behind that of its republican rivals.

The Ulster Unionists have endured a difficult election, while the TUV, led by Jim Allister, has increased its vote share.

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey said there were “lessons to be learned for unionism in its broadest sense”.

He added: “We need to do better.

“The DUP has had a good election but unionism needs to do better, we need to be winning more seats.

“I’m happy to sit down with my fellow unionists and examine these issues and how greater co-operation can lead a pathway towards more success for unionism in general.”

Sir Jeffrey said there had been issues around transfers in unionist votes.

“I think that when you dilute the unionist vote sometimes that means unionist candidates don’t get elected and others slip in ahead of them because the key to success is your first preference vote then transfers can help for those candidates who fall short of a quota,” he said.

“We have seen in various parts of Northern Ireland those transfers haven’t been as strong as they could be.”

He put the rise in the Sinn Fein vote down to the “collapse of the SDLP”.

TUV party conference
Jim Allister’s TUV party has increased its vote in the local government elections (Oliver McVeigh/PA)

Sir Jeffrey conceded a “differential in turnout in areas where Sinn Fein do better”, but said the turnout in predominantly unionist areas is where it was at the last council elections.

“But there is a differential consistently in unionist areas and nationalist areas,” he said.

“We need to look to see why not enough of our people are turning out to vote.”

Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie said it was a failing of unionism that not enough people are taking part in elections.

He said: “It is clear that many unionists and people who are pro-Union are simply not getting out to vote.

“We have a real issue getting people out of their doors to go and cast their vote in many areas.

“That is a failing on our behalf, maybe it is a failing on unionism’s behalf.

“But that won’t stop me promoting a positive and optimistic message.

Good Friday Agreement 25th Anniversary
Ulster Unionist Party leader Doug Beattie said not enough unionists were turning out to vote (Niall Carson/PA)

“I think that is the only way we can improve our situation and it will take time.

“I want to reach out to absolutely everybody and say that we will represent them regardless of what their political aspirations are for Northern Ireland in the future.”

Mr Poots told the BBC that the split in unionist voting “is not sustainable”.

He said that nationalism is “coalescing around Sinn Fein” while unionism is “being divided across three parties”.

He added: “I think that’s not a sustainable model for the way forward and it’s for unionists to actually look at that and realise that it is not the best way forward.”