Ian Paisley jnr has hinted the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) might be willing to offer a pact with the Ulster Unionist Party (DUP) at the next General Election. He told an audience at Cambridge University that whilst his party had an “excellent candidate who was best placed to win” the East Belfast constituency the DUP would be “willing to talk to the UUP about South Belfast, to further the cause of Unionism”.
At the last election there were far more unionist voters across the two parties in East Belfast than were cast for the winning Alliance Party candidate. In South Belfast the two parties joined together polled just six votes less than the winning SDLP candidate.
There are a total of nine Unionist MPs in Northern Ireland, eight DUP and one independent Lady Sylvia Hermon, who left the UUP when they did a deal with the Conservatives. Paisley described losing South Belfast as “sad” given how close it would have been if the two parties had worked together.
Although Paisley does not lead the DUP, the party was founded by his late father and so his comments are likely to be significant in any discussions with the UUP. In his speech, delivered to the annual conference of the Young Britons’ Foundation, he also described his emotion seven years ago when his teenage daughter asked him what “the troubles” were.
He said: “Just think how things have changed in one generation, when I was her age I knew what the troubles were, I could hear the bombs going off from my bedroom. When I was at school almost everyone in my class was Protestant, but she went to a school that was 50/50 Catholics and Protestant. I believe it’s possible for the next generation to set those old differences behind.”
Whilst Northern Ireland was wracked with violence in the past Paisley claimed the biggest crisis facing the province now is the financial crisis. He claimed Sinn Fein had failed to deal with the spending cuts because it did not want to damage its electoral chances in the Republic.
He refused to be drawn on what deal with DUP might do in a hung parliament but said it was “the duty of every Northern Irish politician to ensure stable government across the whole union”. Paisley is widely known to agree with the party leadership that a formal coalition including DUP ministers is unlikely, instead both favour a ‘confidence and supply’ deal.