Tom Elliott quits as UUP leader
Tom Elliott quits as UUP leader

The Ulster Unionist leader Tom Elliott is quitting as party leader. Elliot said tonight he would not seek re-election to the position at the annual general meeting, in just over three weeks time.

A former member of the British Army’s notorious Ulster Defence Regiment, the Fermanagh man created a surprise when he succeeded Reg Empey in a leadership contest following a disastrous performance by the party in the 2010 Westminster general election.

Always seen as a relative ‘hardliner’ within the party, he became infamous for describing Sinn Fein supporters as “scum” from the platform of an Assembly election count centre last year. He also made headlines for his refusal to attend events held by the Gaelic sports organisations or the North’s gay and lesbian community.

In a statement outlining his decision and the reasons behind it, Elliott said some “obstruction and hostility” had begun immediately following his election as leader and had been “relentless” since then.

He said he had been “successful in leading the political field by making a start to reviewing the government structures and reducing the over-governance of Northern Ireland”.

Although support for the UUP undoubtedly declined under his leadership, Elliott stated that he had not been treated fairly.

“Some people have not given me a fair opportunity at developing and progressing many initiatives,” he said.

However, the one-time County Fermanagh Orange Order Grand Master may well be credited with steering the party away from what had seemed an inevitable merger with David Cameron’s Conservative Party.

The Ulster Unionist assembly team are said to have had a bad-tempered meeting on Monday, in which there were bitter complaints about the state of the party.

This followed the publication of an opinion poll which revealed that the party was viewed by northern voters as “the most inconsequential” of the various parties in the Six Counties. A separate news report indicated the party’s only Stormont minister, Danny Kennedy, was coming under pressure to stand as leader against Mr Elliott.

Mr Kennedy, who is currently Six-County Minister for Regional Development, paid tribute to his outgoing party leader.

“Tom Elliott has given loyal and dedicated service to the Ulster Unionist Party as he has attempted to restore the political fortunes of our party,” he said.

“I want to pay a warm and genuine tribute to his many fine qualities of honesty, integrity and leadership which he has displayed throughout his tenure as leader.

“I will always be grateful to him on a personal basis for the opportunity he has afforded me to represent our party in the Northern Ireland executive.”

Elliott said he would continue to function as a member of the Stormont assembly. A new leader is expected to be named at the party’s annual meeting, scheduled to take place on Saturday 31 March.

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