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DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has dismissed suggestions that his party is using negative tactics to scare people into voting for them at next week’s Assembly elections.
Launching his party’s election manifesto at a factory in Co Armagh, Sir Jeffrey also insisted that people want the Stormont institutions to work, but said that they need to be reformed.
His party’s 60-page election is based around their five point plan, which includes proposals to grow the economy, support the NHS, improve education, help families struggling with the cost-of-living crisis and remove the Northern Ireland protocol.
Pledges include investing an extra £1bn to cut hospital waiting lists by using a partnership with the independent sector and supporting the creation of 20,000 jobs in the next five years.
The manifesto also pledges to deliver 30 hours of free childcare per week to families.
But many of the questions from media at the launch centred around his party’s repeated claim that Sinn Fein will use victory in the election to push for a border poll and a united Ireland.
When Sinn Fein launched their election manifesto earlier this week, it listed a priority as securing a date for a border poll on unification.
Asked about the use of negative tactics in the election, Sir Jeffrey said: “Look, this is not about scaring anyone. It is about pointing out the real choice that people have in this election.
“We are not inventing this. Right at the heart of the Sinn Fein manifesto is their demand for a date for a border poll.
“Before the election they were off to the States and they were publishing big adverts in the Washington Post and in the New York Times. What is that all about if it is not about preparing their supporters in Irish America for their next big push
“It is not about helping ordinary households who are worried about how they are going to pay their energy bills, it is not about sorting out the issues around the protocol, it is not about fixing the health service, it is about pushing their agenda for a border poll and a united Ireland.”
Flanked by his party’s Assembly candidate team, the DUP leader added: “We are simply pointing out that is the choice in this election.
“I make no apology for pointing out the glaringly obvious in this election campaign.
“While we are focusing on the issues which matter to ordinary people, they are focusing on their real agenda which is to pursue their plans for a border poll.
“I believe the DUP are going to win this election, but suppose Mary Lou McDonald or Michelle O’Neill are standing up next week to declare a Sinn Fein victory, does anyone seriously believe that in their victory speech the border poll issue won’t be front and centre?
“I am simply alerting people to that reality and giving them a clear choice in this election.”
The DUP collapsed the powersharing Executive at Stormont earlier this year in protest at the post-Brexit protocol and have stated that they will not re-enter Government while the so-called Irish Sea border remains.
Their manifesto pledges that any new arrangements must restore Northern Ireland’s place in the UK internal market and have the support of unionists and nationalists.
But Sir Jeffrey insisted that he believed that people did want to see the Stormont work.
He said: “I think we do need to see change. We would like to see reform of how our political institutions operate.
“We would like to move towards the concept of a voluntary coalition.
“I think people are looking for change, but fundamentally they want Stormont to work, they want Stormont to deliver and they want Stormont to stay.”