No winners in Upper Bann election row

Election count
Election count

When the two main unionist parties announced an election pact back in March, you might have thought it signalled a new spirit of cooperation between the Ulster Unionists and the DUP.

It might have done in Fermanagh and South Tyrone, Newry and Armagh, East Belfast and North Belfast, the four constituencies where the pact operated, but here in Upper Bann the last seven weeks have been marked by increasing levels of bitterness and antipathy between the two parties.

We are now a week past polling day but the fallout continues from what was a highly-charged few minutes in the counting centre in Banbridge.

What followed is well documented elsewhere on these pages as an animated David Simpson, fresh from being re-elected with a more comfortable majority than many had predicted, criticised those responsible for “despicable attacks” on his family.

Mr Simpson didn’t mention any names, or indeed any particular party, but the Ulster Unionists have assumed that he was directing his criticisms at them.

What has followed is a week of claim and counter claim, and a row that hasn’t done either side much credit.

Just as we share Mr Simpson’s indignation at racist abuse towards his adopted children, Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt’s plea for the MP to provide evidence proving UUP involvement is equally understandable.

Mr Nesbitt has said that anyone found guilty of such behaviour will be removed from the party forthwith but since the allegations were aired, innocent UUP staff in Portadown and Banbridge have been subjected to public abuse. This is as repugnant as the online abuse of Mr Simpson’s family.

There are no winners in this situation and both sides would do well to get around a table and resolve their differences. Mr Simpson’s increased vote is a vindication of the job he has done over the last decade as Upper Bann MP. But equally, Jo-Anne Dobson has increased the Ulster Unionist vote, a credit to her campaign and her work as an MLA in the constituency. Both sides should now work together for the greater good.

Controversy also rumbles on about an opinion poll published in the Portadown Times a week before the election. The Portadown Times has no apologies to make for the publication of that poll. As we said when we published its findings on May 1, the poll was carried out by an independent professional polling organisation. It was commissioned by the DUP but we have no doubts or misgivings about its authenticity and we also continue to respect the organisation’s wish to remain anonymous.

The poll predicted that Catherine Seeley of Sinn Fein, instead of Mrs Dobson, would finish second to David Simpson but if this General Election has told us one thing, it’s that polling is not an exact science. For weeks and indeed months national pollsters predicted a Hung Parliament. It was difficult to recall a single pundit who predicted the Commons majority won by David Cameron and the Conservatives.