Northern Ireland

Ulster Unionists should be top force says Tom Elliott

Tom Elliott
Image caption Tom Elliott saw off the challenge of Basil McCrea to become UUP leader

Tom Elliott, the new leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, has said he wants to see it return as the "top force" in unionism in Northern Ireland.

Mr Elliott, 46, assembly member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, saw off Lagan Valley MLA Basil McCrea by 643 votes to 294 on Wednesday night.

Sir Reg Empey quit as UUP leader in the aftermath of a disastrous general election which left it with no MPs.

Many of the party's senior figures had declared their backing for Mr Elliott.

On Thursday morning, Mr Elliott said he hoped to change the party's electoral fortunes

"Want I want to do is have a party that can go forward into the elections and ensure that we will rebuild the Ulster Unionist Party to make it the top force in unionism in Northern Ireland again.

"That's not an easy job, I accept that," he said.

Mr Elliott was seen as the "establishment" candidate, with his background as a senior Orangeman and former UDR soldier, while Mr McCrea had hoped to secure enough votes from rank-and-file members, positioning himself as a moderniser.

In the past decade, the UUP has gone from having 10 MPs to none. One of the first tasks for Mr Elliott will be healing any rifts within the party.

"What I want to see is a party that actually represents the population of Northern Ireland," he said.

"I want to see for the Ulster Unionist Party the same as I want to see for the people of Northern Ireland - that is a working together, that is an integration, not a carve up between two parties or two sections of our community.

"I want an all-embracing party that actually represents Northern Ireland."

Mr Elliott said Northern Ireland had changed dramatically recently.

"This province has moved on hugely in the last number of years I don't want to take it back and I will not be taking it back into the bad old days."

'Good debate'

Mr McCrea said he "wished Tom all the best" and admitted he was not particularly surprised by his defeat.

"The important thing is that we had a very good debate, a very good argument.

"I've been talking to Tom across the country for the last two or three weeks and a lot of the ideas that we've put forward have now been taken up by the party," he said.

Former party leader Sir Reg Empey also sent his congratulations to his successor from the US, where he is attending the Clinton Global Initiative.

"I would like to offer my warmest congratulations to Tom, who will now take up his place at the helm of the Ulster Unionist Party.

"I look forward to continuing to work alongside Tom and indeed Basil as the party enters this new era," he said.

Secretary of State Owen Paterson said he had spoke to Mr Elliott on Thursday morning to say he looked forward to working with him.

"To be elected to lead your party places a great responsibility on any politician," Mr Paterson said.

"Tom will have my support as we all work to help Northern Ireland face the challenges ahead."

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