THE first shots of the forthcoming Westminster election campaign in North Down have been fired with Bangor’s most senior Orangeman calling for rival unionist parties to agree a single candidate to ‘oust’ the Alliance Party’s MP Stephen Farry.
Just this week Dr Farry confirmed he hopes to be selected as the Alliance Party candidate in the next general election, expected to be called next year, and secure his seat for a further five years.
Responding to the Orange Order’s call for a single Unionist candidate, Mr Farry said the North Down Westminster seat belongs to the people of North Down, not any one political party or organisation and it is for the electorate to determine who best represents their views.
However hundreds of members of Bangor District Orange Lodge have backed a ‘clarion call’ for ‘unity and strategic action’ to help ‘Unionism win back North Down and help protect the Union’.
This direct call for rival unionists to agree on a single candidate comes after months of behind the scene discussions among Unionists about how they win back the seat.
Gary Taylor, Bangor District Master, said the call by local Orangemen calling for a ‘unified Unionist front’ underscored the ‘urgency’ felt within Lodges and was a ‘strategic move’ aimed at ‘consolidating the unionist vote’ to take back the North Down seat.
The senior Orangeman said the election of the Alliance Party deputy leader in 2019 had ‘sparked concerns amongst Unionist factions’ and Mr Farry’s ‘expression of his aspiration for a United Ireland’ on a local radio show had ‘further intensified’ these concerns.
He said North Down’s political dynamics ‘were at a crossroads’ and the call for a ‘unified Unionist candidate’ would prevent the further fragmentation of the Unionist vote.
North Down became the only seat in Northern Ireland to be represented by a non-aligned party when Mr Farry topped the 2019 Westminster election poll, almost 3,000 votes ahead of his closest challenger, Alex Easton, who at that time was still a member of the DUP.
As the Bangor District Master, Mr Taylor acknowledged the political landscape of North Down has ‘witnessed significant shifts in recent years’ but said ‘historically, North Down was a stronghold for unionist representation’.
He explained that Bangor District Orange Lodge, ‘a prominent unionist organisation’, took a ‘decisive step to address this shift’ on Friday, September 15.
He said: “The Lodge passed a motion that read: ‘Bangor District Orange Lodge calls on all Unionist parties present in North Down to agree on a single Unionist candidate to run for the forthcoming Westminster election and further calls on all Districts and Lodges across the North Down constituency to promote and help Unionism win back North down to help protect the Union.”
He said the election of Stephen Farry marked a departure from the tradition of North Down being represented by a unionist.
“As a member of the Alliance party, Mr Farry’s political stance is perceived by many as being more centrist and less overtly unionist,” he continued.
“His public comments regarding a united Ireland have further exacerbated concerns among unionist factions about the future direction of North Down’s political representation,” said Mr Taylor.
“The Bangor District Orange Lodge has long been a pillar of unionist sentiment in the North Down. Comprising over 300 men and women, the Lodge plays a pivotal role in shaping political discourse in North Down.
“The recent motion passed by the Lodge is a reflection of the deep-seated desire among its members to ensure that North Down remains firmly within the unionist fold.
“By calling for a unified unionist candidate, the Lodge aims to prevent the fragmentation of the unionist vote. This strategy is seen as crucial in the face of rising support for parties like the Alliance, which are perceived as being less staunchly unionist.”
Mr Taylor said the ‘political dynamics’ of North Down are at a crossroads.
“The Bangor District Orange Lodge’s motion is a clarion call for unity and strategic action,” he said. “As the forthcoming Westminster election approaches, all eyes will be on North Down to see if this call for accountable unionism resonates with the broader electorate.”