Upper Bann MP Carla Lockhart has called for Unionists to unite to avoid losing any more seats at next year’s Westminster elections.
Her words come too as a Northern Ireland Assembly poll is due to be called in the absence of a power-sharing Executive.
The DUP representative has warned that it will be ‘stay-at-home Unionists’ who fail to vote who gift more seats to nationalist parties.
Carla Lockhart was speaking at the DUP Conference in Belfast, when she issued a rallying call ahead of any future elections.
She said “apathy and divided Unionism” had been to blame for Sinn Fein replacing the DUP as the largest party at Stormont.
And Ms Lockhart called upon Ulster Unionist Leader Doug Beattie MC MLA and TUV Leader Jim Allister to “work with us” in the DUP to prevent further decline of the Unionist mandate.
Ongoing division within Unionism, said the MP, was “resulting in less seats and less influence for Unionism across all levels of Government”.
Said Carla Lockhart said: “It will not be nationalists who defeat DUP candidates at the polls next year. It will be Unionists who sit at home and don’t bother to vote or waste their vote on candidates who can’t win.
“Whilst some get carried away with the nationalist vote, let’s remember the combined Sinn Fein and SDLP vote was around 40% in 1998 and its still around 40%.
“As the undisputed voice of Unionism, this party has a duty to chart a course ahead which builds a broad coalition of support for the people who want to make Northern Ireland work. A movement of people who share our ambitions for this wee Province. By doing so, we will deliver the Northern Ireland I want for my family, and yours. What a prize that is. However, we need to energise and unite the Unionist family.
“For as we have seen in recent elections, division and infighting is costing unionism votes, costing unionism seats, and costing unionism influence. There is nothing more frustrating, or demoralising, than standing outside a polling station in a supposed unionist/loyalist heartland watching dribs and drabs of voters entering the polling station.
“Despite the hard work that this party puts into serving and delivering for our communities – and we do deliver for these communities – not enough people feel exercised enough to vote. We need to ask why this is?
“I believe at the root of the problem is the ongoing, damaging, and destructive divisions within Unionism.
“Divided unionism demoralises our people, who want to see co-operation, and who crave unity. As a result they stay at home. They are fed up, as I am, of intra-unionist infighting and attacks. Is there anything more pointless than Reg Empey’s latest diatribe against this party. He’s like a broken record.
“Faced with a constitutional enemy that is coalescing around Sinn Fein, the message from grassroots Unionism is clear – work together and get our voters out!
“This the challenge that this party must embrace, and in it we must succeed. For the cost of failure is too great.
“Apathy and divided unionism helped Sinn Fein to become the largest Party in Stormont. Apathy and divided Unionism helped Sinn Fein become the largest party in local Government.
“We simply cannot allow apathy and divided Unionism to aid Sinn Fein, or their wee helpers in the Alliance Party, in the forthcoming Westminster election. It’s too important – more absentee Sinn Fein MPs who take the expenses but not their seats and more Stephen Farrys. Please no.
“Friends, we have talked about unionist cooperation for long enough. Further delay is simply unacceptable. We do not have the luxury of time.
“My message to the other Unionist leaders today, for whom I have a great deal of respect, is clear – Doug, Jim, please work with us to deliver what our people want.
“The reward will be more seats for Unionism and more influence for Unionism and more for Northern Ireland.”