Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt’s comments on transferring votes to the SDLP drew a mixed but largely negative response from the general public in the unionist heartland of Coleraine.
He was branded a “sell-out”, “anti-unionist” and “arrogant” by some while others lent him their support.
Most people who were willing to share their views on the issue reacted badly to Mr Nesbitt’s stated intention to list the SDLP for a transfer – ahead of other unionist candidates – in his home constituency of East Belfast.
The News Letter took to the town centre in Coleraine to ask people for their views on Mr Nesbitt’s comments.
One group of ladies, from east Belfast, spoke in very harsh terms about the Ulster Unionist leader.
Visiting Coleraine for the day were Mary Fairfield, Eileen Stitt, Violet McCurdy and Audrey Harvey.
Ms Fairfield said: “He is selling us out. We want him out of east Belfast.”
Violet McCurdy added: “The UUP won’t be getting any vote from me now.”
Eileen Stitt added: “We don’t want him in east Belfast.”
Asked whether any would consider following Mr Nesbitt’s lead and transferring to a nationalist party in the forthcoming election, the Belfast ladies laughed at the very suggestion and collectively answered a resounding “no”.
A similar view was expressed by Jackie Brush from Dromore in Co Down, who interupted his shopping trip to share his views with the News Letter.
“Any unionist that votes for a party that wants a united Ireland is a traitor to their forefathers,” Mr Brush said.
“I just don’t understand him. Why would he not support other unionists? As far as I’m concerned there should only be one unionist party anyway.
“He might say he isn’t telling people how to vote but he is encouraging people just by saying what he said.
“Our fathers would turn in their graves if you told them that the leader of a unionist party would vote for nationalists.”
Ann McKergan, who is from Newcastle in Co Down, said the very idea was bizarre.
“It’s extremely strange – it is weird. Why would he say that? I don’t get involved in politics much but I just can’t understand why he would say that. He needs to be thinking about the country and not just about himself, personally.”
Tim Robinson, from Coleraine, said it was “fair enough” if Mr Nesbitt wishes to vote for the SDLP.
“I think it’s fair enough. Realistically, the Ulster Unionists will have to form a coalition with the SDLP if they are successful so I suppose it makes sense for him to do that.
“I am an Alliance voter but I would have no problem giving some of my preferences to the SDLP.”
Another man from Coleraine, Roy Nutt, was sceptical of Mr Nesbitt’s motivation for making his comments. “I think he’s just looking to score brownie points for saying it. I think what Stormont needs is really forward looking people but all the parties up there are always looking to score points off each other.
“If he landed more jobs for Coleraine it would be one thing but he’s just trying to score points.”
Neil Devenney, also from Coleraine, also questioned Mr Nesbitt’s motivation for aligning himself so closely with the SDLP.
“He shouldn’t have said it,” Mr Devenney said. “I think he is only saying it to get into power. They are trying to get in through the back door.”
John McDonald, also from Coleraine, welcomed Mr Nesbitt’s approach and said a “more moderate” voice would be helpful for Northern Ireland.
“I’m too old to get angry or stressed and I think Mike Nesbitt could be a calming influence on politics. The two main parties – the DUP and Sinn Féin – are at such extreme ends of the spectrum that I don’t see how any good can come out of that. I think it’s unlikely that the UUP will be the biggest party but a more moderate voice would be a positive thing.”
Another who was broadly supportive of Mr Nesbitt’s comments was Lynsey Pollock, a nurse from Belfast who now lives in Coleraine.
“I would have traditionally been a unionist voter but now I vote for the SDLP,” she said. “I just think they have more to offer and more to say.
“The unionists seem to spend more time squabbling with each other whereas the SDLP seem to get more done. I would agree with them more on things like integrated education and healthcare. I was a nurse in the Royal and our healthcare system is in serious bother. I think it is a good thing that Mike Nesbitt is going to transfer to the SDLP.”
Robert Turner, who is from Coleraine, said he had been considering a vote for the Ulster Unionist Party until he read about Mr Nesbitt’s comments.
“I would have been a UUP voter but that has definitely swayed it for me – I’ll be DUP from now on. I think it’s an absolute disgrace for a leader of a unionist party to say he’s going to be transferring to a nationalist party.”