A former senior Ulster Unionist has vowed not to rejoin the party if Tom Elliott’s “Sinn Fein scum” comments are allowed to stand.
This puts further pressure on the UUP leader to either withdraw his outburst or step down.
David McClarty was a UUP MLA in East Londonderry since 1998 but was deselected this year and ran as an independent, defeating the party’s official candidates.
The UUP won only 16 seats in the election and this entitles it to only one ministry, but if Mr McClarty rejoins its ranks it will get two ministries, the same as the last Assembly.
Last night Mr McClarty, who describes himself as “an extremely liberal unionist”, made it clear that he would not decide on the basis of personalities.
He also stressed that there were other factors, beyond Mr Elliott’s comments, to be weighed up.
Foremost in his mind was what people who voted for him against his former party would wish.
However, he said of Mr Elliott’s comments: “I have concerns about his speech and his style. I understand the circumstances under which he made his comments but I don’t have any sympathy for that form of unionism.”
Asked if this meant he would not rejoin the party if the comments were allowed to stand, he replied: “Correct.”
Mr Elliott lashed out at a group of Sinn Fein activists when he made his acceptance speech after being elected in Fermanagh and South Tyrone on Saturday.
He said that the Sinn Fein supporters, who were brandishing Irish tricolours after having three MLAs elected, were carrying the flags of a foreign nation.
When they jeered at him he said: “I would expect nothing better from the scum of Sinn Fein”, and referred to IRA murders during the Troubles.
At the time party colleagues said that Mr Elliott had been tired and had spoken in the heat of the moment. Since then he has stood by his outburst as fully justified, and not directed at all Sinn Fein members. Mr McClarty said he found this “totally unacceptable”. He said: “I accept that people say things in the heat of the moment, but he is not apologising for it.
“I very much regret that. I can’t accept that sort of unionism.”
Asked if the remarks could prove a deal-breaker for him, he said: “If those remarks formed the attitude of the party, then certainly.”
Sources say Mr McClarty is in a particularly difficult position because he likes Mr Elliott personally, and only last September voted for him in the UUP leadership contest, believing him a safe pair of hands.
Mr Elliott may face a leadership challenge at the UUP AGM on June 4. Last night a number of members said that a challenge was under active consideration.
David McClarty was formerly the UUP’s Assembly chief whip and served on the enterprise, trade and investment committee and the environment committee in the previous administration. A Freeman of the City of London, Mr McClarty is married with two sons, has a deep interest in education and sits on the board of governors at Christie Primary School in Coleraine and Coleraine Academical Institution. He worked in his brother’s insurance business before being elected to the Stormont Assembly in 1998.