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Unexpectedly Westminster-bound, the odd couple who shook up the pollsters

By Noel McAdam

Published 09/05/2015

Danny Kinahan
Danny Kinahan

The Ulster Unionist Party's two new MPs - 'Downton Danny' Kinahan and Tom Elliott - make something of an odd couple, and many didn't expect either to make it to Westminster.

South Antrim MP Mr Kinahan lives in a castle and gets his light-hearted moniker after the popular TV show about the aristocracy and their servants living in a stately home. He is also a cousin of singer-songwriter Chris de Burgh, and served in the British Army.

Former party leader Mr Elliott, a proud Fermanagh man, ticks many of the more traditional boxes, including belonging to the loyal orders, the farming community and representing the UUP's strongest area.

Mr Kinahan is seen as something of a liberal and tends to go his own way to some extent.

Most recently he was the only unionist to support a Sinn Fein motion for marriage equality in the Assembly, and told how his eyes were opened to discrimination against gay people when one of his colleagues, whom he described as an "excellent soldier", left the Army after failing a vetting process for promotion.

"I want a society here in Northern Ireland where no one is made to feel a second-class citizen to any extent, and certainly not due to sexual definition.

"I want no discrimination whatsoever on account of religious belief or sexual orientation," he said.

Mr Elliott, who was a part-time member of the UDR, gives off a calm outward demeanor.

He's seen as something of a barometer for the party's grassroots, particularly in the more rural areas, and a safe pair of hands with an impeccable unionist pedigree.

The UUP was the only party in Northern Ireland to make gains in the general election - going from zero to hero in electoral terms.

Seizing Fermanagh and South Tyrone back from Sinn Fein's 14-year grip was a huge punch-the-air triumph for the party

The more surprise result came in toppling veteran DUP figure the Rev William McCrea in South Antrim.

Yet despite his double victory, party leader Mike Nesbitt still said he was "disappointed" that Jo-Anne Dobson failed to beat the DUP's David Simpson in Upper Bann.

On the upside, he argued the fact that unionists now hold 11 of the 18 House of Commons seats - with the DUP remaining on eight and independent Lady Sylvia Hermon in North Down - would negate any moves to call a border poll.

"It was very important, particularly in this election, to send as many pro-Union MPs back as possible," he said.

"Last time it was nine pro-Union, nine who were not pro-Union. It was important this time because of the threat from Scottish separatists.

"You are basically talking about 10% of all MPs now who are not pro-Union, including Plaid Cymru, the SDLP and Sinn Fein.

"Also, had the split gone nationalists' way, say 10-eight, the cry for a border poll would have been very loud and the Secretary of State may have concluded that because it was now 10-eight that it was appropriate to call a border poll, and that would have been very destabilising.

"It's gone from nine-nine to 11-seven, so there is a clear majority of pro-Union MPs.

"And if you look at the legislation, it says that the Secretary of State can only bring forth a border poll if he or she believes that there is a likelihood that the referendum would result in a vote for change.

"You're now looking at 11-seven not for change.

"There's no grounds for the Secretary of State to call a border poll."

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