Belfast Telegraph

General Election: Foster says DUP won't contest Fermanagh and South Tyrone - would support UUP's Tom Elliott

DUP leader Arlene Foster says her party is prepared to back a UUP candidate in Fermanagh South Tyrone (PA)
DUP leader Arlene Foster says her party is prepared to back a UUP candidate in Fermanagh South Tyrone (PA)
Andrew Madden

By Andrew Madden

DUP leader Arlene Foster has announced her party will not contest the Fermanagh and South Tyrone seat in the upcoming election.

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Mrs Foster said the DUP would instead support Ulster Unionist Tom Elliott in a potential attempt to retake the seat, which he lost in the 2017 poll.

The announcement comes amid a dispute over the UUP's stance on electoral pacts, with leader-designate Steven Aiken previously stating the party would contest all of Northern Ireland's 18 Westminster seats.

Many unionists have slammed the strategy over fears it would split the vote in key constituencies, in particular North Belfast, where DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds is facing a challenge from Sinn Fein's John Finucane.

In a statement released on Saturday, Arlene Foster said the DUP has "always believed in unionist cooperation" and parties working together to "maximise representation".

"The people of Fermanagh and South Tyrone deserve to be represented in the House of Commons rather than an absentee MP standing on the sidelines," she said.

"Despite the DUP being the largest unionist party in the constituency, it is right to put wider interest ahead of narrow party politics and indicate our support for Tom Elliott to re-take this seat.

"This is something voters from across the unionist community want to see happening and we will be urging DUP supporters to put their full weight behind Tom’s campaign.

"Every vote will matter in this election and the votes of Northern Ireland MPs could again be crucial in the new Parliament. It is more important than ever to have MPs who will turn up and speak up for their constituents where it matters - inside the House of Commons.”

In the 2015 general election, a unionist pact saw Tom Elliot win the Fermanagh and South Tyrone seat, where he out-polled Sinn Fein's Michelle Gildernew by 530 votes.

UUP leader-in-waiting Steve Aiken with former party leader Tom Elliott
UUP leader-in-waiting Steve Aiken with former party leader Tom Elliott

Two years later, however, Ms Gildernew wrestled the seat back in the snap election, with a majority of 875.

The Ulster Unionist Party has yet to announced if Tom Elliott will contest the December 12 poll.

Earlier this week, 25 senior unionist figures signed a letter to Steve Aiken to voice their concerns about splitting the vote in north Belfast.

It later emerged that threats were issued to UUP staff over the issue, which police are investigating.

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