Belfast Telegraph

UUP leader Robin Swann: Westminster losses will not drive me out

By Suzanne Breen

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann has said that he won’t quit, even if his party loses its two Westminster seats in next month’s general election.

Mr Swann said that Danny Kinahan and Tom Elliott had a “good chance” of holding onto their South Antrim and Fermanagh and South Tyrone seats.

However, he insisted that he wouldn’t step down even if both were not returned.

“Tom has the bigger challenge in Fermanagh and South Tyrone and I’d be slightly concerned because of the demographics in that constituency,” he said.

“But Tom’s put the work in and he’s well-known and respected. I think that will bring him home.

“Losing one or both seats would certainly be a challenge for us, but I wouldn’t consider resigning.

“After all, I was only 10 days in the job when Theresa May called the election.

“I’d barely got my feet under the table.”

Mr Swann said that he wasn’t “a career politician” and had he held such ambitions, he wouldn’t have joined the UUP.

“If you live in North Antrim and want to climb the career ladder in politics you join the DUP, and I never considered doing that,” he said.

“I believed in the Ulster Unionists.

“When I joined, David Trimble was our leader and he impressed me.

“His style of leadership was very different to the ‘No, no, no! Never, never, never!’ of the Rev Ian Paisley.”

Mr Swann said that his political hero was former UUP Prime Minister Terence O’Neill, who met fierce opposition from unionist hardliners.

“I admire what he tried to do and, had he been allowed to get on with it, we would be somewhere entirely different in Northern Ireland now. He was before his time,” Mr Swann added.

Last year his predecessor Mike Nesbitt invited SDLP leader Colum Eastwood to address the Ulster Unionist conference.

Mr Swann said he would “have no problem” with inviting him to do so again.

When asked if he would advise party supporters to give their second preference vote to the SDLP in any future Assembly or council elections, he said: “We’re facing a Westminster election next month in which the first-past-the-post system is used, with voters giving only one preference.

“I’m not looking further down the line than that.”

Mr Swann revealed that while he opposed abortion law reform and same-sex marriage, he wouldn’t support a petition of concern to prevent either in the Assembly.

“I’m personally against both but the last time anyone from my party signed a petition of concern was in 2011,” he said.

“Despite my own views, I wouldn’t sign one on either issue.”

The UUP leader also distanced himself from Arlene Foster’s “blonde” comments on Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill.

“I wouldn’t personally have used such a term to describe Michelle or anyone,” he said. “We are in a position now in Northern Ireland politics where people have to be careful about what they say and how they say it.”

Mr Swann described Sinn Fein’s Stormont leader as “very capable”.

He said: “I observed Michelle as Agriculture Minister and she certainly knew what she was doing.

“She was getting into her Health portfolio when Stormont collapsed, but she seemed to be well able for that brief too.”

When asked about Mike Nesbitt’s leadership of the UUP, Mr Swann said his predecessor had “brought a much-needed discipline to the party and an end to unhelpful solo runs in the media by some representatives”.

When quizzed about a recent photograph of Mr Nesbitt lying face down on the floor of a hotel lobby, the UUP leader said: “Reporting of that matter is now in the hands of Mike’s solicitor Paul Tweed.”

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