New UUP MP Tom Elliott basks in plaudits of victory
The first UUP MP in Fermanagh/South Tyrone for almost 15 years says his victory is a "major boost for unionism".
Tom Elliott won the seat from Sinn Fein's Michelle Gildernew, who had held it since 2001 when she defeated UUP veteran Ken Maginnis.
Mr Elliott said he had been overwhelmed by well-wishers since he won the seat last week, not only in his home county of Fermanagh but across NI.
He was cheered in Belfast on Saturday as he took part in a parade marking 100 years since the 36th Ulster Division left the city for the World War One battlefields in France.
The UUP man even received a standing ovation in the Welders Social Club in inner east Belfast as he waited for his bus home.
"I never knew so many people knew my name," he laughed.
"We had just finished the parade and saw the Welders, and thought we'd pop in for a quick drink while we were waiting for our bus. There was about six of us, the place just erupted when we walked in. It was four deep to get to the bar, thought we'd never get served, next thing someone had pressed a pint into my hand. It was unbelievable."
Mr Elliott was similarly warmly greeted at the Balmoral Show yesterday with well-wishers lining up to congratulate him, get their photograph taken with him, and even ask for his autograph.
One elderly woman said; "Congratulations Tom, it's just wonderful, it really is, and you're looking well."
Many media commentators had downplayed his chances. Mr Elliott said he thought he could do it, but he wasn't sure.
"There were very few people had any inclination I could win it, almost all the commentators didn't, but I thought I could, and I was able to manage it," he told the Belfast Telegraph.
"The response since has been amazing. I think I counted 150 text messages, hundreds of emails and even more messages on Facebook. I am still trying to answer them all.
"People from all over Northern Ireland are delighted. It has been a real boost for unionism. There has been no representation at Westminster for Fermanagh since Ken Maginnis."
Mr Elliott will be sworn in as an MP next week, alongside his party's other new MP, South Antrim's Danny Kinahan.