Unionist hardliner Ian Paisley has said rival unionist leader David Trimble will get “the electric chair and the rope” in regard to the May 5 elections.
Speaking at a rally by his DUP party this week, Mr Paisley said it was clear that David Trimble’s days as Ulster Unionist leader had been numbered for some time.
In controversial but characteristic remarks predicting electoral defeat for his UUP rivals, Mr Paisley said: “What he (Mr Trimble) is just counting is the time to the electric chair and the rope.”
Mr Paisley said it was unclear who would replace Mr Trimble, because he believed there was a doubt whether anybody from the party would be elected to the London parliament.
Trimble responded by describing the DUP as the “nasty face of politics”.
At a press conference at UUP Belfast headquarters, he launched a stinging attack on the rival party, accusing them of operating an electoral policy which was losing seats unionists should hold.
“I have to say that the strategy adopted by the DUP of trying to focus on totals of votes rather than totals of seats is essentially bogus and for a Westminster election is intellectually dishonest - what matters is seats.”
“The strategy adopted by the DUP has reduced the number of unionist seats from a potential 12 to 11 and could potentially reduce it further by splitting the vote in South Belfast,” Mr Trimble said.
He claimed the policy had already lost the Fermanagh and South Tyrone constituency, which his party used to hold, to Sinn Féin.
The DUP has claimed that Sinn Féin could win the most votes in the election, and this can only be prevented be unionists voting for the DUP.
Meanwhile, Mr Trimble said his party was not behind a leaflet campaign urging Alliance Party supporters to vote UUP.
The leaflets have been pushed through letterboxes in certain constituencies, asking supporters of the small cross-community unionist party to “lend” their vote to the Ulster Unionists to prevent a DUP landslide.
MALLON BACKS ‘REAL MIDDLE GROUND’
In related news, outgoing SDLP MP Seamus Mallon has suggested that SDLP supporters could back David Trimble in the Upper Bann constituency. defend the UUP leader from a strong challenge by the DUP’s David Simpson.
“I have no doubt that there will be people in Upper Bann who will make their judgments as they see the best way of using their vote,” said Mallon.
In the heyday of the Belfast Assembly, Trimble and Mallon worked together as the First Minister and Deputy First Minister respectively. However, a more vocal expression of mutual support between the two embattled parties in this election has not emerged.
However, Mallon warned about what he called the “Balkanisation of the north”, due to the rise in support for Sinn Féin and the DUP.
“We are at a watershed in terms of the political future of the island,” he said.
“The outcome of this election will set the agenda for a considerable time. Will the kind of politics that we have seen now for some time continue? Or will we give people some hope that the future can be better?”
He claimed that if the parties of Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley were allowed to strengthen their grip on nationalism and unionism, it could condemn the north to years of division.
“They are squatting on what we term the middle ground, but it is not lost,” said the feisty veteran.
However, Sinn Féin general secretary Mitchel McLaughlin responded by insisting his party was not interested in negative politics.
“The peace process is in terminal decline. There is a need for bold and decisive action to rescue it,” Mr McLaughlin said.
“And when others could only resort to negative politics and inaction, Gerry Adams took a courageous initiative to put the peace process back on track.
“We now have an unprecedented opportunity to make progress, to finally and conclusively deal with the outstanding issues and to see the Good Friday Agreement realised in full.
“But instead of supporting such decisive action or putting forward other proposals, the outgoing MP falls back on the easy option and engages in negative politics.
“Sinn Féin is not interested in this type of approach. What we are doing is building an alternative.”