Local Election 2019

DUP's Arlene Foster: Unionist split 'strengthens' Sinn Féin border poll calls

DUP leader Arlene Foster at the party's local government manifesto launch. Picture by Mal McCann
Brendan Hughes

ARLENE Foster has urged unionists to turn out and vote in council elections, warning that Sinn Féin emerging on top would "strengthen" calls for a border poll.

The DUP leader said "every vote counts" and argued that every first preference vote for another unionist party "runs the risk of dividing unionism".

Mrs Foster was speaking yesterday as the DUP launched its local government election manifesto at Belfast's Kingspan Stadium.

"Every first preference vote for another unionist candidate or another unionist party runs the risk of dividing unionism, returning fewer unionist councillors, and bolstering Sinn Féin demands for a divisive border poll," she said.

"We are living in profound political times and there can be no doubting in these times that every vote matters."

The party's manifesto pledges include a real-terms cut in rates by keeping any rises below the level of inflation over the full council term.

It calls for further discussion on whether councils should get additional powers to regenerate towns and villages, and more playparks and leisure facilities made fully accessible for people with disabilities.

Also included are details of proposed "celebrations for Northern Ireland's centenary in 2021", such as a public holiday on May 3 2021 and an "Armed Forces Day national event".

Taking questions from reporters, the DUP distanced itself from Ian Paisley lobbying Karen Bradley to give councillors a pay rise.

Last month The Irish News revealed that the MP had sent the Secretary of State proposals to increase councillors' basic annual wage from £14,485 to £21,727 following a meeting last year with a councillors' union group.

DUP MP Gavin Robinson joked that "all the councillors are going to cheer", prompting laughs from the audience of candidates.

But the party's deputy leader Nigel Dodds stressed: "What we're putting forward in this election is what's in that manifesto."

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Local Election 2019

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