Northern Ireland Election 2017

Jim Wilson says there are 'too many' unionist parties

Jim Wilson
Image caption Jim Wilson is a former loyalist prisoner, who now works at a sectarian interface in east Belfast

Northern Ireland has too many unionist parties and splitting votes among them has damaged their cause, a high-profile loyalist community worker has said.

Jim Wilson was speaking on the BBC's Five Live after unionists lost their majority in the Northern Ireland Assembly in Thursday's election.

He said unionists and nationalists were now at "level pegging" in Stormont.

He added the result was an "eye-opener" for unionism and he said they should consider uniting around a single party.

Sinn Féin hailed its result in Thursday's poll after it came within one seat of drawing level with the largest party - the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

The DUP had gone into the election with a 10-seat advantage, but the gap has narrowed due to an increase in the Sinn Féin vote and an overall reduction in the number of seats from 108 to 90.

The middle ground also shifted too, with the nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) winning two more seats than the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP).

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt announced his resignation while vote counting was still continuing and will step down when his successor is found.

Mr Wilson told Five Live the election "wasn't very good for unionism" which had "too many political parties".

"There were five parties within unionism and that is far too many for a small country like this," he said.

"At one time we had one unionist party in Northern Ireland, it was the Ulster Unionist Party. The people within unionism need to start to realise that, galvanising the support into one political party."

However, the former loyalist prisoner, who now works in east Belfast, said the current unionist parties were not currently serving the interests of working-class loyalists.

After a bitter election campaign, when DUP leader Arlene Foster compared Sinn Fein to a hungry crocodile, Sinn Féin saw a 3.9% rise in its first preference vote.

The party got 224,245 first preferences in Thursday's election, just 1168 behind the DUP.

Mr Wilson said: "There are only two parties within the nationalist community and they do very well and they've given themselves a lift.

"I'm not running down the nationalist community, they have a right to vote, they've a right to accept and to be annoyed or hurt if things are going wrong.

"But likewise, within the unionist family, we need to start to learn on how to use our votes because we didn't use our votes very well over this election."

Correction 6 March 2017: This report initially said DUP leader Arlene Foster had compared Irish language activists to crocodiles. In fact, Ms Foster compared Sinn Féin to a crocodile which, when fed, keeps "coming back and looking for more".

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