Northern Ireland

DUP 'divorces' from Loyalist endorsement

Sinn Fein's John O'Dowd, DUP's Jeffrey Donaldson, SDLP's Colum Eastwood, UUP's Robin Swann, Alliance leader Naomi Long at the leaders' debate hosted by the BBC's Noel Thompson Image copyright ©William Cherry / Presseye

The DUP will not accept an endorsement by a group backed by the three main loyalist paramilitary organisations, an outgoing DUP MP has said.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson was speaking at a debate ahead of Thursday's election.

The Loyalist Communities Council (LCC) on Tuesday called for a maximum turnout by unionist voters.

It backed the DUP's Nigel Dodds, Gavin Robinson and Emma Little Pengelly in Belfast and the UUP's Tom Elliott in Fermanagh and South Tyrone.

Asked on the televised BBC Northern Ireland leaders' debate if his party would "unequivocally divorce" from the statement, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson replied: "Yes."

He added: "We don't accept support from anyone who is engaged in paramilitary or criminal activity."

Image copyright PACEMAKER PRESS
Image caption The LCC has the backing of the three main loyalist paramilitary organisations

Sir Jeffrey also denied a claim by Alliance leader Naomi Long that he had equivocated on the issue in an earlier debate.

Sir Jeffrey was representing the DUP in the debate as party leader, Arlene Foster, was attending an event in Messines, Belgium, to honour the soldiers of the 36th Ulster and 16th Irish Divisions who fought there during World War One.

'Utter nonsense'

Sinn Féin's Stormont leader, Michelle O'Neill, is understood to have lost her voice and was replaced by John O'Dowd.

Mr O'Dowd claimed the DUP 's relationship with the UDA was "about both of them dominating the stage".

"The DUP use the UDA during elections and the UDA use the DUP in government," he said.

Sir Jeffrey called the claim "complete and utter nonsense".

But he pointed to a story in Wednesday's Belfast Telegraph about the Shankill bomber Sean Kelly campaigning for Sinn Fein in North Belfast.

He asked: "Can you imagine Sean Kelly the Shankill bomber arriving on your doorstep?"

John O'Dowd said Sean Kelly was out promoting politics and the peace process.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said: "I think it's astonishing that we have a UDA linked association promoting candidates in this election.

"I'm glad that Jeffrey has come out and said he doesn't want their support."

The politicians also discussed the Union, Brexit and attempts to restore power-sharing.

Overall, it was a bad-tempered end to weeks of campaigning.