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Obituary: William Thompson

Straight-talking and principled unionist who campaigned against Good Friday Agreement

Former Ulster Unionist MP for West Tyrone William Thompson, who has died at the age of 71, was on the traditional hardline wing of the party.

He entered politics in the 1960s and in 1973 was elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly as the member for Mid-Ulster.

During this period he sided with those in the party who were opposed to the power-sharing Executive set up as a result of the Sunningdale Agreement.

He went on to represent the constituency in the Constitutional Convention (1975-76) and the Northern Ireland Assembly (1982-86), as well as serving as a UUP councillor on Omagh District Council from 1981-93.

In 1997 he became the first MP for the new constituency of West Tyrone, where his victory was assured by a split nationalist vote.

It was during his time as MP — August 15, 1998 — that the Omagh bombing atrocity occurred, killing 29 people. He broke down in tears during a live interview on BBC1’s national breakfast show the following morning.

He made it clear that he was opposed to the decision by UUP leader David Trimble to take part in the 1997 all-party talks because of the presence of Sinn Fein and, when the Good Friday Agreement was signed the following year, he was one of the first to publicly oppose it and campaign in the referendum for a ‘No’ vote.

He lost his seat in 2001 to Sinn Fein’s Pat Doherty, bringing to an end his frontline political career.

A farmer and postmaster from Beragh, he was described by those who knew him best as straight-talking and principled.

During one of the many UUP internal turmoils under David Trimble, an aide recalled how Trimble tried to restore unity by having face-to-face meetings with each of his other nine MPs. Each was allocated around 45 minutes.

But Mr Thompson was not one

for grandstanding, his meeting lasting only around five minutes, before he emerged smiling.

He told the aide: “If someone from the Press rings up, I will tell them this: ‘The party leader and I had a frank exchange of views, after which both of us emerged with a very clear understanding of each other’s position.’”

He was assistant grand master in the Orange Order from 2004-07 and was also deeply involved with the Methodist Church.

It was a measure of his standing within the unionist community that all the unionist parties paid tribute to him following his death.

New UUP leader Tom Elliott described him as a man unafraid to say exactly what he thought, while DUP leader Peter Robinson said he had given the people of West Tyrone a voice in Parliament, something since denied them by Sinn Fein’s abstentionist policy.

Mr Thompson, who was buried in Omagh, is survived by his wife Violet, daughters Wilma and Elaine and son Paul.

LAURENCE WHITE

Belfast Telegraph

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