Ulster Unionist Leader, Mike Nesbitt MLA, has challenged the DUP to call a by-election in Upper Bann, following a ruling from the press complaints body, the Independent Press Standards Office (IPSO).
In its final edition before the 7th of May General Election, the Portadown Times published the results of an opinion poll that suggested a vote for Jo-Anne Dobson of the Ulster Unionists would split the pro-union vote, and risk the seat being taken by Sinn Féin. What the Portadown Times did not report was that the poll was commissioned by the DUP and was six weeks old by the time of publication. It was also inaccurate, given Sinn Féin again finished third in the General Election.
Mr Nesbitt said:
“The poll was published a week before the General Election, and it was clear to me, Jo-Anne Dobson and her canvass team that the publication provoked a dramatic mood swing on the doorstep. Where voters had previously been bright and enthusiastic about the prospect of Jo-Anne as their MP, the poll resulted in people indicating they could not risk voting Ulster Unionist out of fear.
“I wish to emphasise that the IPSO investigation makes clear the DUP did not disguise their commissioning of the poll. It was the Portadown Times editorial team who decided not to reveal that information, and they have been found guilty under the IPSO Code of Accuracy, which places a duty on them not to mislead their readers.
“Given the way the publication of an out-of-date survey appears to have skewed the result of an election to the House of Commons, I have no doubt David Simpson MP will do the decent thing and call a By-Election so the people of Upper Bann can vote without the artificial shadow of fear hanging over their ballot papers.
“On a related matter, Mr Simpson made accusations in May of racial abuse being directed to members of his family. At the time, I invited him to name names, assuring him if an Ulster Unionist was responsible, I would personally drive to their home, refund their membership fee and dismiss them from the Party. As no names have been named, I invite him to lift the slur which is keenly felt by many of my colleagues in Upper Bann, and clarify he did not mean to imply any Ulster Unionist was involved in racist abuse.”