Northern Ireland Election 2016

NI Assembly election: DUP accused over Robert Coulter picture

Mervyn Storey, Robert Coulter and Philip Logan Image copyright DUP
Image caption DUP candidates Mervyn Storey sand Philip Logan with former Ulster Unionist assembly member Robert Coulter

An Ulster Unionist assembly candidate has accused his DUP rivals of "student union politics" after a picture emerged of a former colleague posing with them.

It features DUP North Antrim candidates Mervyn Storey and Philip Logan alongside a smiling Robert Coulter.

Mr Coulter represented the constituency for the UUP from 1998 until 2011.

DUP sources said the former Presbyterian minister was "happy for it to be made public that he is voting DUP this year".

But when the BBC spoke to him he said he would be voting down the line for all unionist candidates.

Mr Coulter was not prepared to say which candidate he would be putting first on the grounds that it is a secret ballot. He added that he is friendly with both the UUP and DUP candidates.

In a statement, he said: "Throughout all of my political career, I have put the Ulster Unionist Party in first place, but I am now absolutely convinced that the unionist parties should vote together all the way down the ticket.

"I had chosen [Ulster Unionist] Robin Swann to succeed me in the North Antrim seat. I stress that I am absolutely dedicated to the position that unionists of all parties should vote for each other down the ticket.

"I believe that the plague of unionism has been party politics and I am now dedicated to the view that unionists should stand together and vote for each other."

Mr Swann, who succeeded him as the Ulster Unionist MLA for the area, claimed the DUP's use of the photograph was "student union politics designed to do the UUP maximum damage ahead of the election".

He and his UUP running mate Andrew Wright also have a photograph of Robert Coulter with them.

It has echoes of an incident before last year's Westminster election involving former Ulster Unionist MP Martin Smyth.

Image copyright UUP
Image caption Mr Coulter was also pictured with Ulster Unionists Andrew Wright and Robin Swann

The DUP's South Belfast candidate Jonathan Bell tweeted a picture with the former MP saying he had his support and that he had signed his nomination papers.

But Mr Smyth later accused the DUP man of "misleading" him saying he had already pledged his support to the Ulster Unionist candidate Rodney McCune.

He said he only signed Mr Bell's nomination papers because he was told he could also sign Mr McCune's papers