Irish Republican News · September 24, 2010
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
UUP elects hardliner as leader

Tom Elliott, a 46-year-old Assembly member for Fermanagh-South Tyrone, has been elected the new leader of the Ulster Unionist Party to succeed Reg Empey.

A hardline Ulster Unionist, part-time farmer and former member of the Royal Irish Regiment and Ulster Defence Regiment, he defeated Basil McCrea, viewed as a party moderniser.

Over 900 of the 2,000 UUP members entitled to participate in the poll gathered in Belfast’s Waterfront Hall to vote for the new leader. As UUP members assembled it became quickly apparent that Mr Elliott had the advantage.

He entered the Waterfront conscious that he had the backing of most of the party’s Assembly members. He also put considerable organisation into his campaign. Five buses ferried many of his supporters to Belfast from Fermanagh and Tyrone last night.

Mr McCrea, however, had hoped that the majority of rank and file members would rally to his cause. But in the end Mr Elliott won by 643 votes to 294, 69 per cent to 31 per cent.

Mr Elliott played to a conservative base. He controversially indicated he would not attend a Gaelic sports event or gay pride march, and in one radio interview last week pointedly refused to offer an opinion as to who he wanted to win the All-Ireland final, Down or Cork.

He describes himself as a “dedicated member” of both the Orange Order and the Royal Black Preceptory.

Mr Elliott has the immediate challenge of trying to prepare the greatly diminished party for next May’s Assembly elections against the DUP, which has usurped the UUP as the main unionist party. The DUP holds 36 Assembly seats against 17 for the UUP.

In 1997 the UUP held 10 Westminster seats while the DUP held just two. But by 2005 the UUP had collapsed to just one seat against nine for the DUP. In the Westminster elections earlier this year the UUP was left with no seat.

His first day in office was overshadowed by comments he made that he had no intention of ever going to a Gaelic sports match.

Hours after the leadership election, former Westminster candidate Trevor Ringland threatened to resign from the party unless his new boss agreed to attend a Gaelic football match.

The former Ireland rugby international says Mr Elliott needs to reach out to the nationalist community.

“I am just not going to come out in reaction to some dispute and say I am going to attend a GAA match or any other event”, Mr Elliott said on Thursday.

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams extended his best wishes to the new UUP leader.

“Mr Elliot will know that the only way forward is through partnership and the need to embrace equality so that we can all face into a changing Ireland, free from sectarianism and division, confident of the future.”

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