The DUP is experiencing its own problems as it faces into an election amid a public expectation that the result could see it sharing power with Sinn Féin.
Its assembly candidates have been asked to pre-sign a resignation letter which could be implemented if they break party policy. Potential penalties for breaches of include a fine of some two thousand pounds and a clause that could compel an elected Assembly member to resign from the Assembly.
Ulster Unionist Party chief negotiator Alan McFarland accused the DUP leadership of trying to buy the silence of their candidates. “This is outrageous, reeks of a paranoia and shows a party deeply uneasy with itself. It also runs contrary to basic principles of democracy,” he said.
“It is clear that the DUP are trying to buy the silence of their candidates.”
A considerable variety of views has been expressed by DUP election candiates about the prospects of power-sharing on March 26, the deadline set by the two governments.
One candidate has already ruled out power-sharing entirely, while others have said the March 26 deadline cannot be met. Still others have indicated they won’t be “found wanting” in response to moves by Sinn Féin.
The party is apparently facing a mini-revolt in north Antrim when only six members attended a recent meeting.
Local DUP councillor and former Irish rugby international Davy Tweed said today: “I am not going to campaign for the party to bring Sinn Féin/ IRA into Government. I have fought two elections to keep them out of Government.”
It is understood Tweed has been joined by five others, including Roy Gillespie, a party member for almost 40 years.
“The real question to ask the DUP is what their definitive position is on power-sharing,” said Alan McFarland.
“It appears that they are just too scared to tell their electorate and the people of Northern Ireland what it is they are voting for.”
Meanwhile, Robert McCartney’s UK Unionist Party is to field a number of candidates in the assembly election, potentially upsetting the DUP’s hopes of increasing its share of seats.
The move has all the political ingredients to open up a bitter fight within unionism on the question of sharing power with Sinn Féin.
The UKUP has suggested there is unrest among some DUP constituency associations and some pastors of Ian Paisley’s Free Presbyterian Church had reported no support for DUP policy among their congregations.
A representative of the unionist paramilitary UDA David Nicholl looks set to join the Ulster Unionist Party.
Mr Nicholl said he had been canvassing on behalf of the UUP in Derry. but denied speculation that he had been asked by the UUP’s Foyle branch to stand in next month’s assembly election.
“What the UDA has said to us - and the UDA leadership - is that in a democracy people have freedom of choice to vote for and join whatever political party they wish,” he said.
Meanwhile, an Ulster Unionist councillor has defecting to the very right-wing UK Independence Party (UKIP).
Henry Reilly has resigned from the UUP in Newry and Mourne to become UKIP’s first elected representative in the North of Ireland.
The Kilkeel councillor plans to stand for the assembly for UKIP in the South Down constituency.
UKIP is committed to withdrawing Britain from the European Union and deporting immigrants. It once had television presenter Robert Kilroy-Silk as a member.