A war of words has erupted over the possibility of Upper Bann being part of the Westminster election pact agreed by the DUP and the Ulster Unionists this week.
DUP leader Peter Robinson told BBC Radio Ulster that Sinn Fein and the DUP were “very close” in Upper Bann with the constituency on a knife-edge. He said the electorate should choose the “only unionist party candidate that can win - the DUP’s sitting member David Simpson”.
The two parties agreed on unified candidates in North Belfast (Nigel Dodds), East Belfast (Gavin Robinson), Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Tom Elliott) and Danny Kennedy in Newry and Armagh.
The office of Upper Bann UUP candidate Jo-Anne Dobson said, “Mr Robinson should go and study his maths - the figures speak for themselves”.
In 2010 David Simpson polled 14,000, UUP’s Harry Hamilton was second on 10,639 and Sinn Fein’s John O’Dowd attracted 10,237.
“It’s the panic call,” the official added. “The UUP attracted 27.2 per cent of the first preferences in the May 2014 ABC local elections, against the DUP’s 24.2 per cent. We’re in the ascendency.”
Mr Simpson retorted, “I am disappointed that Upper Bann could not be included within this agreement. Sinn Fein have made no secret of their desire to win the seat, and the figures from recent elections show that unionists cannot take this constituency for granted. We must ensure the highest possible turnout and back the only unionist party that can win.”
The other main Upper Bann candidate is Dolores Kelly (SDLP) who attracted around 5,500 votes over the last three elections. She won’t be making a pact with Sinn Fein. “We’re not interested in sectarian politics,” Mrs Kelly insisted. “I won’t be standing down and I appeal to people who want politics in Northern Ireland to support me.”
She added, “The UUP has been sold a pup. Nigel Dodds and Gavin Robinson have every chance in Belfast. But Danny Kennedy has no hope in Newry and Armagh.”