Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

Ringland quit threat over GAA snub

New UUP leader Tom Elliott
New UUP leader Tom Elliott

The new leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) has faced his first resignation threat from a party member after he was accused of snubbing gaelic games.

Fermanagh Orangeman Tom Elliott has only just been voted in as the party's new figurehead following a campaign in which he pledged never to attend a Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) game.

But prominent UUP member and former Ireland rugby international Trevor Ringland, who has also been a noted campaigner against sectarianism, threatened to resign from the party unless his new boss agreed to attend a gaelic football match.

Mr Elliott later said he had worked behind the scenes to help GAA clubs in his local area, but was against public gestures he branded as "tokenism".

Mr Ringland said: "I would guarantee him that if there is an Ulster team in the all-Ireland final next year I will get him two tickets for that final.

"I want to hear him say in the next few days that if I get him those tickets he will go to that match.

"Because I see people who are reaching out to the unionist community, reaching out to try to build a shared society here and they need encouragement as well. They need to see and hear a unionism that actually wants to have a relationship with them."

Mr Elliott won two-thirds support from the 1,000 UUP delegates who met in Belfast's Waterfront Hall. He defeated Basil McCrea, who had promised to modernise the party.

Mr Elliott's traditional unionist message, and his background as a senior member of the Orange Order and a former Ulster Defence Regiment soldier, saw the 46-year-old secure an easy victory.

During the leadership campaign he sought to win grassroots backing by telling supporters he would never attend a GAA event or a gay pride event. He was heavily criticised for both claims but said his critics were making too much of the issue.

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