Hardline unionists in the North today spelled out their hopes of bringing down the region’s power-sharing government.
The Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV), led by former Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) member Jim Allister, has already dented his one-time colleagues’ support at the polls.
Now the fledgling party said it plans to use its strength among disaffected unionists angry at Sinn Féin’s inclusion in government to build political opposition to power-sharing in the North.
The TUV leader said he will fight forthcoming elections where he hopes to convert grass-roots support into parliamentary seats at Westminster and the Northern Ireland Assembly.
“Right across this Province we will see candidates elected who are committed to replace the present undemocratic structures and chaos with good government, built firmly not on appeasing terrorists, but on respecting the fundamentals of democracy,” he said.
Mr Allister told his party conference in Belfast he would build a political bridgehead in the Stormont Assembly where the DUP and Sinn Féin share power, with the aim of wrecking the system from within.
“Because with a large enough dissenting unionist bloc, it cannot survive,” he said.
The TUV leader held a European Parliament seat for the DUP before splitting with the party over its decision to enter government with republicans.
Earlier this year he failed to retain his seat in the European election when he stood under his new TUV banner, but he won 66,197 votes, representing 13.7% support.
His performance rocked the DUP, pushing it into third place in the election and causing its support to fall to 18.2%, a major drop from the 32% it won in the previous European election in 2004.
Mr Allister told his supporters they had forced the DUP to hold off on Sinn Féin demands for the devolution of policing and justice powers to Stormont.
Republicans are keen to see the move finalised after the British Government last month offered a package of almost £1bn (€1.1bn) to finance the transfer of the powers.
But while the DUP leader and First Minister Peter Robinson has said he is delaying a final decision until unionist confidence in the move has been secured, the TUV claimed its right-wing pressure was the real reason for the delay.
“But for TUV, policing and justice would already be devolved,” said Mr Allister.
“The delay is further evidence of the policy-changing pressure TUV has been able to exercise. There are 66,000 reasons for Peter Robinson’s foot on the brake pedal.
“The votes for TUV in June are proving to be the most influential of all those cast.”
He said the TUV was “the Unionist people’s best insurance policy” against Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness of Sinn Féin having influence over the justice system.
Mr Allister added: “But, make no mistake, the DUP is preparing to deliver this key republican demand.
“Another phoney consultation and a few diversionary sweeteners will be the ploy, but Marty’s meddling days in justice are coming.
“It used to be the IRA decided when judges would be killed and policemen butchered, soon they will exercise a controlling veto over those very disciplines.”
He said Sinn Féin was already on record as identifying the devolution of policing and justice as a key step in weakening political links with Britain.
And while the DUP has said Sinn Féin will not hold the new Justice Ministry under the current devolution plans, the TUV leader said this supported his party’s position.
“If IRA/Sinn Féin is unfit to hold the Justice department, and they most assuredly are, then they are equally unfit to hold any government office,” he said.
“The logic, clarity and truth of that reality is unanswerable, yet, both the UUP and DUP are hopelessly wedded to insulating Sinn Féin in every other office, because both have bought into the iniquitous Belfast Agreement and its central structure, mandatory coalition.”
He added: “So in the next Assembly election TUV will be presenting a very clear platform of irreversible opposition to terrorists in government and the system of mandatory coalition designed to keep them there.
“Through a sufficient bridgehead of Traditional Unionists, pledged not to operate the evil of mandatory coalition, we will force change and we will test the platitudes of others who protest they too want change.”
The DUP hit out at the TUV and said it was attacking fellow unionists, thereby playing into the hands of republicans.
It suggested that splitting the unionist vote risked helping republicans to gain further influence over the North's politics.
The DUP added: “It takes a twisted kind of logic to argue that making Sinn Féin the largest party is good for unionism.”