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I'll not take the whip if I get elected, says unionist unity candidate for Fermanagh and South Tyrone Tom Elliott

By Liam Clarke

Published 17/04/2015

Own man: Tom Elliott
Own man: Tom Elliott

A unionist pact candidate has said he will not take the DUP whip should he get elected to Westminster.

Tom Elliott, the UUP candidate in Fermanagh and South Tyrone who is being backed by the DUP, insisted he would not necessarily vote with the larger party in parliament.

Many in the DUP will be surprised at Mr Elliott's comments. One party member thought Mr Elliott had agreed to support its 'Northern Ireland Plan'.

This document was drawn up by the DUP for use in negotiation with British parties if there is a hung parliament.

Mr Elliott dismissed the suggestion. He insisted that co-operation in Westminster would be no closer or more formal than it was in Stormont, where the two parties are often at each other's throats.

He said he could also co-operate with other parties.

Yesterday Arlene Foster, the DUP minister, even canvassed with the former UUP leader. Earlier in the contest Ms Foster, a former UUP member who left amidst acrimony, said that Mr Elliott was an Ulster Unionist and she was sure he would have his own team. She also wished him well.

Yesterday Mr Elliott said: "The DUP are canvassing with me. Arlene Foster has been canvassing with me and so have councillors."

TUV members and other unionists have also canvassed with him.

However, he stated: "I am still my own man. Obviously I am a member of the Ulster Unionist Party so I would be doing what we see as best for the Ulster Unionist Party.

"That would be my primary position and if Nigel Dodds got elected in North Belfast I am sure that is what he will be doing for his party."

He said of the DUP: "There may be issues we will co-operate on just as we do in the Assembly and there may be issues that we will not. That is the way it will work."

Asked if he would also co-operate with SDLP and Alliance MPs (Sinn Fein don't take their seats) he replied: "Obviously I would co-operate with whoever it was necessary to co-operate with on issues. That is the world of politics; it will be no different from the Assembly."

Mr Elliott was a surprise choice in Fermanagh South Tyrone, but supporters feel he is emerging as a stronger candidate as the campaign progresses.

Unionists believe that his argument that he will go to Westminster and represent the constituency is putting Sinn Fein's Michelle Gildernew under pressure. Even if this pushes votes towards the SDLP's John Coyle, this would help Mr Elliott's prospects.

Ms Gildernew was recently quizzed on this issue by the Fermanagh Herald newspaper and suggested that abstentionism was something which could change, though Sinn Fein has previously ruled this out.

Asked if she could take her seat in the future she replied: "Well, I never say never, but the time and circumstances are not right now and to be honest I don't feel that the British have any need to involve themselves in Irish politics so why would I feel the need to involve myself in British decisions?"

Originally the DUP pushed for an independent unionist candidate from outside the party structures but the UUP nominated Mr Elliott. Stephen Gault, an Enniskillen bomb survivor and victims' spokesman, was asked to stand.

This fell through when Mr Gault told the Belfast Telegraph that he would not stand against Mr Elliott under any circumstances. He has now signed Mr Elliott's nomination papers, along with Ms Foster and other unionists.

Despite the intense manoeuvring among unionists Ms Gildernew, a civil rights veteran with good people skills, is favourite to keep the seat. Paddy Power gives her odds of 2/5 with Tom Elliott on 7/4, and LucidTalk polling agrees.

Belfast Telegraph

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