Belfast Telegraph

General Election 2019: UUP's Elliott bids to win back seat he lost to Sinn Fein

UUP’s Tom Elliott wins Fermanagh and South Tyrone seat in 2015
UUP’s Tom Elliott wins Fermanagh and South Tyrone seat in 2015

By David Young

Ulster Unionist election candidate Tom Elliott said representing the people of Fermanagh and South Tyrone in Westminster will be at the heart of his campaign to reclaim the seat.

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Mr Elliott (55), who was MP for the constituency for two years between 2015 and 2017, was speaking after he was selected unopposed as the UUP candidate for the seat in the December 12 poll.

He is aiming to win the seat back from abstentionist Sinn Fein MP Michelle Gildernew.

Mr Elliott said it was vital that local people had proper representation in Parliament.

"My message is that the people of the constituency should have representation in Westminster - and I want to give them that, offer that representation to them.

"There are very important issues to be dealt with, including health, education, agriculture and broadband, and those are the areas that I will be focusing on, trying to do better for Fermanagh and South Tyrone.

"You learn to try and create influence there, try to get the ear of ministers and senior civil servants and other Members of Parliament, so that they have a better knowledge of your constituency than they would otherwise have had, and of Northern Ireland in general.

"I suppose that's the key to it, to try and spread your message across there, where there is influence," he said.

Mr Elliott, a farmer from Ballinamallard, represented the constituency as an MLA from 2003 to 2015.

He was also UUP leader between September 2010 and March 2012.

He is set to be the sole unionist running in the knife-edge constituency after DUP leader Arlene Foster said her party would not field a candidate to avoid splitting the unionist vote.

Ms Gildernew retook the seat by 875 votes in the June 2017 election.

But Mr Elliott added: "I always feel it's vital that people's views are represented in Parliament, and that other MPs can hear those views. You need to be in there to do that.

"When I was there (at Westminster) I did try to make that point and do that. But it's for others to decide if they don't do it or not."

He added: "The views of the Fermanagh and South Tyrone constituency are not getting into the heart of Parliament, if you don't take your seat and get your point across."

There was speculation that Mr Elliott had been less than eager to put his name forward as a candidate in the rural constituency, where turnouts are traditionally high and elections closely fought.

Asked about rumours he was reluctant to stand, he said: "Ah, well, I'm sure, from time to time, when you're in elected politics or not, you often think, you know, would you be better placed somewhere else, so, you know, views like that are always going through your mind. But look, I'm selected, so you get on with it, and that's how it is."

Turning to Brexit-related issues in the constituency, Mr Elliott said: "I think people are just getting on with their lives and doing what they have to do.

"There's concern that the Brexit issue has been rolling on and on, and there's still a lot of uncertainty about what's going to happen and what could happen."

Mr Elliott vowed to make health a priority if he is elected.

He added: "Health is significant given that we have an acute services hospital in Enniskillen, and there are diminishing resources. We're hearing about the nurses going on strike.

"Health is always a big priority in Fermanagh, and I suppose we've a more elderly population than some other areas, so it's very relevant, and something that's on people's lips daily."

Asked how he rated his chances of retaking the seat, he added: "Well, look, it's a tight constituency for votes, always has been, and so all you can do is have a go at it and make the best of it and see what it brings out the other end.

"I'm just hoping that people recognise that representation in Westminster - in Parliament - is important."

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