UDA's political wing defends DUP election endorsement
THE Ulster Political Research Group (UPRG) has commented for the first time on its controversial election endorsement of DUP candidates.
The political wing of the UDA urged loyalists to vote for Emma Little-Pengelly and Nigel Dodds in South and North Belfast, both marginal constituencies with large working-class loyalist areas.
Mr Dodds went on to hold off the challenge of Sinn Féin to retain his seat, while Mrs Little-Pengelly ousted the SDLP's Alsadair McDonnell - both on increased turnouts.
The DUP was challenged in the days before the election to state whether it accepted the endorsements, which came in the same week that a breakaway faction of the UDA was linked to the murder of 35-year-old Colin Horner in a supermarket car park in Bangor.
The party saw its vote rise in traditionally loyalist areas across Northern Ireland, including in Lagan Valley where Jeffrey Donaldson increased his share across the constituency by almost 12 per cent.
A spokesman for the south Belfast UPRG said the high turnout was in part because of "anger at Sinn Féin actions", with the party's respect agenda not perceived as genuine.
"Unionism was angry and that was the main motivation to vote, especially when it came to the DUP - I know of many UUP voters who instead voted for Jeffrey Donaldson," he said.
"We have seen improvement in voting turnout for the last three years but it's slow and could be a lot better.
"UPRG has been pushing many locals to get on the electoral register and get out to vote and this has worked to an extent.
"South Belfast was different, as there was such a rise in the turnout that it helped deliver a unionist MP which was the main reason for such a sea change."
In loyalist Sandy Row in south Belfast, turnout was an unprecedented 70 per cent.
The UPRG said the area's two main DUP representatives, Ms Pengelly and Christopher Stalford, had built relationships in a community that previously viewed politicians as out of touch.
The spokesman denied that Social Investment Fund money for loyalist areas had 'bought' votes, claiming the endorsement of Mrs Pengelly "was done so out of the urgency for the unionist community to have someone sit on the benches at Westminster and work for them, help deliver investment and improve their day to day quality of life".
"The media furore over the UPRG endorsement of Emma and the subsequent LCC (Loyalist Communities Council) statement which endorsed Tom Elliott, Gavin Robinson and Nigel Dodds was uncalled for and perhaps the community saw this as yet another proverbial kick in the teeth so it motivated them further," he added.