Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 27 December 2014

UUP needs to reach out to Catholics: McCallister

Ulster Unionist Party leadership hopeful John McCallister has revealed he would back Down in an All-Ireland GAA final and has no problem with gay pride events.

He also spoke of the need to reach out to Catholics and others to build the UUP as a party for the whole community.

Mr McCallister (below) said: “I don’t support a GAA team, I don’t pretend to be an avid follower, but if Down is playing in the All-Ireland I back, certainly, my own team. I am basically supportive of any events which help the local community and promote sport.

“The GAA, like rugby and soccer, are doing great things for the community.”

Mr McCallister’s stance is in contrast to his predecessor Tom Elliott who refused to attend GAA or gay pride events.

He said they would make him feel uncomfortable and he did not believe in gestures.

Mike Nesbitt, the other candidate to replace Mr Elliott, has also attended GAA matches and, in his former role in public relations, organised publicity for the Belfast Gay Pride march.

Mr McCallister said “I would like people from a Catholic and traditionally nationalist background to look at our policy agenda, and hopefully vote for that.

“We want to make Northern Ireland a good place to live for everybody.”

He added: “Under the Good Friday Agreement, which our party negotiated, a referendum will decide the matter if the border ever comes into serious question.

“We no longer need to take all of our politics back to that issue.

“There is a distinct Northern Ireland identity growing across all communities and we in the UUP should be out selling the practical benefits of the Union.

“Our aim is to make Northern Ireland prosperous and comfortable, a part of the world at ease with itself. When people are made comfortable in the Union why would they want to leave it?”

Mr McCallister said he would like to see politics move onto a right-left agenda, and that his proposals to take the UUP into opposition if he is elected leader on Saturday would be part of the process of normalisation.

He ruled out unity with the DUP or co-operation with the larger party to defeat nationalists at election time.

He accused Mr Nesbitt, his rival for the leadership, of “playing a very dangerous game by leaving statements pointing both ways” on the issue of unionist unity. Mr Nesbitt told the Belfast Telegraph that unionist unity was not his aim, but had said in an earlier interview “in politics you never say never”.

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