Not much unity on way forward for unionism after turbulent week
IN a week that saw Basil McCrea and John McCallister resign from the Ulster Unionist Party over the decision to put forward a joint candidate to contest the Mid Ulster by-election, unionist politicians in Fermanagh continue to be anything but united in their views on unity.
While DUP Minister Arlene Foster has indicated that her party and the Ulster Unionist Party will look at running another unity candidate in Fermanagh and South Tyrone at the next Westminster election, former UUP leader and local MLA Tom Elliott has said "unionist unity does not work".
"I am a unionist, I want to see a unionist return, and I don't make any apologises for that," Mrs Foster told The Impartial Reporter.
During the 2010 Westminster election, former Fermanagh District Council chief executive Rodney Connor, backed by the UUP, DUP and the Conservative Party, ran as a unity candidate but lost out to Sinn Fein's Michelle Gildernew.
"We were the only constituency that had a unity candidate and the reason we came together was because we were getting a very strong message from the unionist electorate that they wanted the opportunity to put a representative in Westminster. There will be another opportunity to look at that again at the next Westminster election," said Mrs Foster.
The notion of unionist unity has been rejected by Mr McCrea and Mr McCallister who left the UUP last week because of the party fielding a joint candidate with the DUP, describing it the process as a "sectarian headcount".
Reacting to their resignations, Mrs Foster said: "One has to ask the question, are they really unionist? What we are trying to do to is give unionists an opportunity to have representation. There are five constituencies in Northern Ireland that do not have any representation in Westminster and that is very sad," she said.
Despite Mrs Foster's views on unity, Ulster Unionist's Tom Elliott has said: "I don't see, and have never seen, unionist unity, and I don't support it."
He states that putting Rodney Connor forward in 2010 was not unionist unity, but simply, unionist co-operation.
"In some cases parties do co-operate, not just the DUP and UUP, but you see it at the assembly with Sinn Fein and DUP co-operating. Rodney Connor was a deal between two parties, it was co-operation; unity is when unionists unite and come together full of everything, a single party, but that is not going to happen. Unionist unity is quite a distance away. I would never rule out anything, but it is always difficult to see a way forward. Rodney Connor was a one-off; the opportunity may not always be there."
Mr Elliott said his party "like any organisation or business goes through difficult periods" and losing his UUP colleagues was "disappointing," adding: "John and Basil had their own agendas and have been quite difficult for sometime, even when I was leader. Some very senior commentators were advising me to keep them in the cold but I didn't, I brought them in and I tried to encourage them; even though I always felt they were always trying to do something that was making things somewhat more difficult."
But John McCallister's views differs somewhat from that of his former leader.
Speaking to The Impartial Reporter, the South Down MLA said: "If it looks like unity it probably is unity. It is counter-productive, it distorts the message. It didn't get any seats in Fermanagh and South Tyrone and that's the problem -- nobody has been able to rule out running future joint candidates."
It has been widely speculated that Mr McCallister and Mr McCrea will now set up their own party.
"It is too early to say, there was no grand plan when I resigned," responded Mr McCallister.
Sam Foster, President of the Fermanagh Association of the UUP, has said forming a new party would be "complete silliness".
In a letter to The Impartial Reporter this week, the former Stormont Minister wrote: "It is beyond belief that members of the UUP would even think of starting a new party when in fact they did not give support to the present party. It is complete silliness not becoming of a unionist at all. We have a structure there, despite all the 'blows' aimed at it. We are still there, bent, but not broken."
Mr Foster has called on party members to give UUP leader Mike Nesbitt "a chance".
"He is well deserving of that chance and I intend to support him so I say one and all -- give him your support too. The present stand-off is like letting a man going to the electric chair choosing AC or DC. If they examine what has gone before the only party to have hung on relentlessly to the guidelines of the Good Friday Agreement has been the UUP."
This article appeared in Impartial Reporter 21 Feb 13