N. Ireland Politics

'Need for a moderate unionist party', says Sugden

Claire Sugden standing outside Stormont
Image caption Claire Sugden is an independent MLA who supports the union

There is a need for a new, moderate unionist party in Northern Ireland for people who do not want to vote for the DUP or Ulster Unionists, a former justice minister has said.

Claire Sugden made the comments after the UUP lost a European seat to the Alliance Party.

The last attempt to form a moderate pro-union party ended in failure with the implosion of NI21.

Ms Sugden suggested there is potential for another attempt.

The Independent MLA told BBC's The View programme: "I think there is space for potentially a new unionist party, or indeed a unionist party that can represent the moderate voice of unionism.

"Because that currently doesn't exist with the DUP, or even the Ulster Unionist Party," she said.

"And I think what the Alliance Party have been able to do in these last couple of months, is perhaps fill the gap that moderate unionism hasn't been able to do because there is simply no-one representing them."

Image caption Basil McCrea and John McCallister quit the Ulster Unionist Party to form NI21 in 2013, but shortly afterwards the party collapsed due to an internal row

Asked if she would join such a party, Ms Sugden said: "Potentially, yes.

"You know, I'm very much a moderate unionist, but I remain independent because the DUP and the Ulster Unionist Party do not represent the values that I believe in," she explained.

"I think the union is very important. I absolutely understand that Northern Ireland is best served within the context of the United Kingdom.

"But equally, I also want to talk about other issues including equal marriage, better education systems, better health care systems and I'm not finding the space to do that within the DUP and Ulster Unionists.

"So I will remain independent for now, but if we were to have perhaps a more moderate unionist voice on the hill, that might be something I would be attracted to."

Image caption Dermot Nesbitt claims young people want to see a positive message in unionism

Dermot Nesbitt, a former Ulster Unionist executive minister, believes his party is in danger of going out of business.

"This is a trend that has been ongoing. It is not something that is just new to the demise of the Ulster Unionist Party," he told The View.

Asked if that means he believes the party's existence is in danger, he said: "Yes, and that saddens me because people that have moved and voted for Alliance, the young coming through, they see a way forward, they see a positive message, they want to see a positive message in unionism."

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