'Hurt and abused ' Elliott says unionist unity a 'pipe dream'
Mike Nesbitt (centre) with Councillor Alec Baird and Ulster Unionist party leader Tom Elliott at Monday night's Fermanagh Unionist Association AGM.
ULSTER Unionist leader Tom Elliott has hit out at First Minister Peter Robinson for attending a GAA match on Saturday, describing it as "tokenism".
The Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA also declared the much-talked about unionist unity concept as "a pipe dream" and says he has been left feeling "hurt and abused" following his very public fallout with assembly colleague, David McNarry.
In an interview with The Impartial Reporter Mr. Elliott dismissed any notion of uniting the two unionist parties.
"There has never been any hint of unionist unity, not at all, that's a pipe-dream. Areas that other parties can cooperate, maybe, but that's other parties not just the DUP. We have had meetings with the DUP, the SDLP and the Alliance, but there has been no talk of unity," he said.
Mr. Elliott fears such an alliance would "reduce the vote for unionists" and added: "I have never talked about it so any talk of unionist unity is nonsense; it would never work."
Meanwhile, Arlene Foster said she believed the electorate wanted to see the two parties working "more closely together".
"I don't think either party has anything to fear about that. I don't think one unionist party is going to happen over night but I think if you are stuck in the past you will not be looking for the opportunities of the future. If we are confident of our unionism then we shouldn't have anything to fear," she said.
Just days ago, Mr. Elliott and colleague David McNarry fell out over comments the latter made in a newspaper interview about unionist unity. The row resulted in Mr. McNarry quitting his party's group in the assembly after Mr. Elliott stripped him of his vice chairman role on the environment committee as punishment.
Responding, Mr. Elliott said: "Look, David McNarry spoke to the Belfast Telegraph. He had a brief to stick to and he went way beyond that brief and I removed him as vice chair of the environment committee. There's a number of people in our party who don't even have the opportunity to be a chair or vice chair of any committee.
"He didn't take it well, but I think it was an overreaction because there was no suggestion of me removing him from the party whip, or suspending him from the party, and we need to remember that," he said.
According to Mr. Elliott, Mr. McNarry has informed the Speakers Office in Stormont that he now wants to be regarded as an Independent MLA at the assembly and not as part of the Ulster Unionist's grouping, but does that leave him in or out of the party?
"Well, he's claiming he's still a member of the party, but obviously that's something we are going to have to look at. That's an internal party matter that I can't discuss with you," he said.
In interviews since the row, a "hurt" Mr. McNarry criticised the Ulster Unionist leader, saying he had become "the prisoner of a power struggle within the party".
In response, Mr. Elliott, said: "I know he says he feels hurt but I feel hurt and abused as well. His comments about me as leader have hurt me, of course they have. I have known David for many years, but look, I played football for many years and if you got a red card you were suspended, you took your punishment and got on with it. I don't know if this can be worked out," he said.
On Saturday, First Minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson made history when he attended the McKenna Cup final at the Athletic Grounds in Armagh - his first GAA match. His attendance at the weekend has been hailed as "symbolic" by many, but not Tom Elliott.
"I don't think it was symbolic, no. I think things like that are just tokenism. I have no plans to go, but I don't encourage anyone else not to go. If he wants to do it as DUP leader then so be it, but I don't think he'll have too many of his party members following him," he said.
Meanwhile, the Fermanagh Unionist Association held their AGM in Enniskillen earlier this week with special guest, Strangford MLA Mike Nesbitt, who discussed the economy, tourism, and how to encourage more visitors to Northern Ireland.
"Since 2007 there has been a significant reduction in the number of out of state visits by tourists to Northern Ireland, with hundreds of thousands of tourists either staying at home or going elsewhere. Naturally, this has the knock-on effect of lessening the amount of tourist revenue many businesses take in. In counties such as Fermanagh, where tourism is an essential part of the local economy and job creation, is it imperative that we strive to attract as many out of state visitors as possible and secure the financial benefits that come with a healthy tourist industry," said Mr. Nesbitt.
This article appeared in Impartial Reporter 02 Feb 12