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7 June 2012
Ulster Unionist, Mike Nesbitt, is to become the first leader of a unionist party to speak at Leinster House, the home of the Irish parliament.
He is due in Dublin on Thursday to address a group of cross party politicians on the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.
He is expected to say NI needs a single education system and politicians need to do more to create a shared society.
He will also discuss the Queen’s first state visit to the Republic last year.
It is understood Mr Nesbitt will describe the Queen’s Irish tour as “one of the greatest acts of leadership I have ever seen – and an example to us all that you can do these things without compromise to your own identity, your heritage and your belief systems”.
During her four-day state visit last year, the Queen laid a wreath at Dublin’s Garden of Remembrance in memory of Irish rebels who died fighting against British forces for Irish independence.
She also visited Croke Park – the headquarters of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) and the scene of the original Bloody Sunday massacre in 1920, when British forces opened fire during a match, killing 14 people.
The UUP leader is due to appear before the joint Oireachtas committee in Leinster House.
Mr Nesbitt, a former UTV presenter and victims commissioner, was first selected as a UUP election candidate in 2010.
He was elected leader of the party in March.
30 May 2012
DAVID McNarry has claimed that he has information which could “bring the Ulster Unionist Party tumbling down”.
The UUP veteran, who was expelled by the party last week for breaches of discipline, claimed last night to have sensitive information about the party in which he spent more than four decades.
In a statement, Mr McNarry repeatedly attacked UUP leader Mike Nesbitt, whom he described as a “dictator” and “full of his own importance”, for his expulsion.
Last night, the UUP declined to comment on the Strangford MLA’s latest comments.
In his statement, Mr McNarry singled out for thanks two DUP MLAs in his constituency — Simon Hamilton and Michelle McIlveen — for contacting him with “kind and gracious” messages about his situation.
When asked by the News Letter whether that signalled that he may apply to join the DUP or take that party’s whip, Mr McNarry said: “No. It was just a recognition that they had gone to the trouble of sending me a message, more or less pointing out that there hadn’t been any messages from my erstwhile Assembly group.”
Mr McNarry would not go further when asked about ever joining the DUP but said that he had “found a new niche as an independent” since resigning the UUP whip in January and that he had “no plans to join any party” but would be “preaching the gospel of unionist unity”.
One senior DUP source told the News Letter that the party was unlikely to accept Mr McNarry if he applies.
Mr McNarry has repeatedly claimed in recent months to have minutes of DUP-UUP contacts which could embarrass senior UUP figures but to date none have been produced, leading some in the party to claim that he has been exaggerating.
When asked yesterday if that information is now likely to find its way into the public domain, he said: “It is, yes.
“I would be doing that carefully on legal advice and there are some revelations which if I was to release them now would probably bring the UUP tumbling down.”
Mr McNarry claimed that he had “always, in the past, accepted team decisions and the internal party discipline process which was part of that. However, I now realise that I could never be comfortable being expected to bow down to a dictator in charge of the Ulster Unionist Party.
“That is not what our party has ever been about. When a leader, full of his own importance, goes public clearly indicating that my face does not fit and I would not be welcome in his team under any circumstances, there is no point in prolonging the agony.”
Mr McNarry said that he would therefore not be appealing “this pernicious and deeply unfair judgment” which expelled him for telling the News Letter that up to five UUP MLAs may follow him out of the party.
8 May 2012
STORMONT will today debate a motion to stop terrorists being treated as victims in the same way as those they maimed or bereaved.
The Ulster Unionists have brought the matter to the Assembly in a bid to establish a clear definition of a victim that does not encompass those responsible for paramilitary crime. The UUP hope that if the motion is passed it will show a willingness in Stormont to address a matter which the party believes has been fudged.
Explaining the motion in today’s News Letter, the UUP’s justice spokesman Tom Elliott said: “Imagine your son being badly beaten by a gang of thugs, or your daughter attacked and finding out that the perpetrators of these heinous acts were entitled to receive compensation simply by claiming they too were emotionally affected by the event.”
The former UUP leader said that the current definition of a victim under the 2006 Victim & Survivors Order meant that “perpetrators of terrorist incidents can be categorised as victims and receive substantial help and support”.
The UUP support a proposed definition of a victim being considered by the European Union as someone who has suffered harm caused by acts or omissions in violation of the criminal law of an EU member state.
Mr Elliott said that real victims cannot move forward from their trauma if those who created the victims are “given the same opportunities — including funding streams — as they are”.
Mike Nesbitt’s early gaffe suggests he could use a lesson from his namesake to avoid becoming a real comedy character
3 April 2012
Snake-eyed, misanthropic, cartoon Republican party reptile Monty Burns decides to run for office in Springfield.
In a memorable episode of The Simpsons, Mr Burns deploys an army of PR advisers and spin doctors to ensure he gets elected to Congress.
The personification of predatory American capitalism is shocked to find how bad his public image is among the “Joe Six-packs” of the fictional town. He is even more shocked when his election team suggest the best way to portray him as a man of the people is to break bread with the proletariat.
Inevitably this leads to the owner of Springfield’s nuclear power plant sitting down to dinner with Homer Simpson and his family at Evergreen Terrace, all filmed for a Republican party commercial. Of course the outcome is both disastrous and hilarious, especially given that Marge and Lisa are rooting for the Democrats while the boorish antics of Homer and his brood at the dining table ruin the publicity stunt.
Perhaps Mike Nesbitt has never watched The Simpsons, or seen this particular episode. The newly elected leader of the Ulster Unionist party had his very own ‘Mr Burns Goes to Washington’ moment on Sunday just 24 hours after his triumph. On a BBC politics show, Nesbitt suggested it might be a good idea for him to spend 24 hours in the company of poor people. They might “adopt” him for a day in order that he can get direct first-hand knowledge of how the plebians cope with the recession.
Educated at elite Belfast private school Campbell College, before securing a double first at Cambridge, Nesbitt is at least honest enough to admit he doesn’t come from humble origins.
Yet his notion that he could reach out to the economically downtrodden by living with them for a day was another of those classic toe-curling stunts politicians deploy to show themselves one of the people or to get down with the kids.
Think of William Hague’s baseball cap on the big dipper, Tony Blair strumming a guitar alongside Noel Gallagher or even – for those of you old enough and with good memories – David Owen doing the SDP rap (no, seriously!) and you get the picture.
The proposal has been an early gift for the Democratic Unionist party. One of the DUP’s rising stars, Simon Hamilton – who represents the same constituency as Nesbitt – displayed his own comedic talents, saying the last thing a family struggling to make ends meet needed was Nesbitt coming to stay.
Nesbitt, a former Ulster TV news anchor, is an experienced broadcaster and PR operator. Although he certainly means well and is undoubtedly genuine in his concern for those at the bottom of the pile, his political version of ‘The Secret Millionaire’ appears to have backfired only 24 hours into his new job.
Instead of stunts, the UUP leader, seeking to turn his party’s fortunes around after more than a decade of decline, should be thinking of substance. In particular the big question of whether the UUP should remain in a five-party power sharing coalition dominated by Sinn Féin and the DUP. At present the combined ranks of the 106 assembly members not in a government party totals two: Jim Allister of Traditional Unionist Voice and the Greens’ Steven Agnew. There are voices within the UUP, and they will continue to grow, crying out for the party to form the big opposition bloc they say is needed to hold the Northern Ireland executive to account and to deepen democracy in general. Even if Nesbitt is not inclined towards opposition he could, down the line, be forced into it as the party membership seek to make the UUP distinct from the DUP.
Meanwhile, if he wants to really know how the poor live, he could buy a DVD boxset of his namesake Rab C Nesbitt, the Glaswegian comedy character who survives against social adversity and often his own failings in his string vest in Govan. That might give the former television presenter plenty of insight into how those at the sharp end are coping.
1 Apr 2012
**24 hours? Try 24 years.
The new Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt has ruled out forging any electoral pact with the DUP.
“I can’t imagine any circumstances where it would be good for the Ulster Unionist Party, good for the pro-union people of Northern Ireland or good for politics to have an electoral pact,” he told the BBC’s Sunday Politics.
The former broadcaster said he would take the UUP’s sole ministerial seat on the Northern Ireland Executive at some point before the next assembly election.
“I think it would be good for the Ulster Unionist leader to be in the executive,” he said.
Mr Nesbitt, 54, defeated South Down assembly member John McCallister by 536 votes to 129 in the contest on Saturday at the UUP annual general meeting in Belfast.
At the centre of the campaign was whether to back Mr Nesbitt’s plan to remain part of the coalition Northern Ireland Executive and keep the party’s one ministerial position, or to go into opposition as favoured by Mr McCallister.
Mr Nesbitt said the party needed “to be more cohesive as a unit and to be more coherent in the messages that we bring to the public”.
“The really big challenge is delivering the social justice agenda in the Belfast Agreement which hasn’t been delivered,” said the Strangford assembly member.
“It’s about bringing about the shared, and not the ‘shared-out’ future, and that’s where we will draw a line between ourselves and the Democratic Unionist Party.”
Mr Nesbitt said it was important to connect with ordinary people who feel the work done by Stormont is not relevant to them.
“I grew up in leafy suburbs in north and east Belfast, but if I had been born a mile down the road closer to the city centre you might never heard of me,” he said.
“What I’m thinking is we’re not connected, and maybe what I need to do is go and find a family who will adopt me for 24 hours.
“I’d like to live in an area of social deprivation because I think it’s important to get a feel of what it’s like.”
‘Yearn for unity’
The DUP said Mr Nesbitt’s rejection of a unionist pact was disappointing.
“The unionists that I meet throughout the country yearn for unity,” the party’s Simon Hamilton said.
“They want to see the DUP working with the UUP. They want the pro-union family working together.
“It disappointed, but didn’t surprise, me that Mike’s first policy announcements were that he wants to defeat the DUP and is against unionist unity.”
Mr Nesbitt takes over from Tom Elliott, who announced last month he was standing down as leader after just 18 months in the job.
Mr Nesbitt is a former presenter of UTV news, and presented its evening news programme for 10 years before leaving in 2006.
He began his career as a sports presenter at the BBC, anchoring the flagship Good Morning Ulster radio programme for a number of years.
He became a Victims’ Commissioner in 2008. He left the commission when he joined the UUP in 2010.
31 Mar 2012
Strangford MLA Mike Nesbitt has been elected the new leader of the Ulster Unionist Party.
Mr Nesbitt, 54, defeated South Down assembly member John McCallister by 536 votes to 129 in the contest at the UUP annual general meeting in Belfast.
He said he wanted the UUP to become “the party of choice for every pro-union voter in Northern Ireland”.
“I want everyone in this country to get out of bed with a sense of purpose,” said the former broadcaster.
“I want this party to wake up with a sense of purpose.
“I want us to reach out to become the party of choice for every pro-union voter in Northern Ireland, including those who still say they want a united Ireland, but privately accept there is no longer a single reason not to enjoy their continued membership of the United Kingdom.”
John McCallister and Mike Nesbitt John McCallister received more than two-thirds fewer votes than Mike Nesbitt
At the centre of the campaign was whether to back Mr Nesbitt’s plan to remain part of the coalition Northern Ireland Executive and keep the party’s one ministerial position, or to go into opposition as favoured by Mr McCallister.
Mr Nesbitt takes over from Tom Elliott, who announced earlier this month he was standing down as leader after just 18 months in the job.
Mr Nesbitt is a former presenter of UTV news.
He began his career as a sports presenter at the BBC, and he anchored the flagship Good Morning Ulster radio programme for a number of years.
At UTV, he presented its evening news programme for 10 years before leaving in 2006. He became a Victims’ Commissioner in 2008.
He left the commission when he joined the UUP in 2010.
27 Mar 2012
THE ULSTER Unionist Party will elect its 15th leader in Belfast on Saturday. There are two candidates: the favourite, Mike Nesbitt, Assembly member for Strangford; and the MLA for South Down, John McCallister.
Whoever wins will make history – this will be the first time in the party’s 107-year history that the leader will not be a member of the Orange Order.
Whoever wins must also seek to begin clawing back support for a party that for most of the past 100 years was the dominant political force in Northern Ireland, but which over the past decade and more has seen its fortunes fall to their lowest-ever level.
In the 2011 Assembly elections the UUP won just 16 seats, meaning its entitlement to ministerial departments dropped from two to one. In the 2010 British general election it did not win a single seat.
Earlier this month the Fermanagh-South Tyrone MLA Tom Elliott announced he was standing down as leader after just 18 months. The party’s continuing decline, allied to a series of mishaps and gauche comments by Elliott and growing internal dissatisfaction at his leadership, prompted him to go before a possible challenge at the UUP agm this Saturday.
Likely contender Danny Kennedy, the Minister for Regional Development, decided early that he would not stand, leaving the field to Nesbitt (54) and McCallister (40).
Nesbitt, a former news anchorman for UTV, has the higher profile of the two candidates, although McCallister has tried to portray him as being inexperienced because he was first elected in last year’s Assembly elections. McCallister was first elected to the Assembly in 2007.
There is one main policy difference between the candidates: McCallister favours the radical approach of leading the UUP out of the Northern Executive and into opposition in the Assembly, while Nesbitt wants to hold on to the party’s single department.
McCallister argues that exiting the executive would leave the UUP with greater influence in that it could exert greater pressure on First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.
Nesbitt favours staying put.
“John McCallister and I agree that we do not have enough power and influence at present,” he said. “Where we disagree is how to fix it. I want to increase our power base in councils, the House of Commons, Europe and the NI Assembly. I do not see that being achieved by walking away.”
Nesbitt has also indicated he would be prepared to discuss possible electoral pacts with the DUP, rather than any formal association, while McCallister has warned that any connection with the DUP would be the “kiss of death” for the UUP.
Some 2,000 UUP members are entitled to vote on Saturday, but, based on the last leadership election in 2010, it is expected that upwards of 900 members will attend Saturday’s meeting in the Ramada Hotel in south Belfast.
Both Nesbitt and McCallister would be viewed as UUP modernisers. That and the fact that neither is in the Orange Order may pose some voting difficulties for the party’s still considerable traditionalist base.
The second UUP MLA for Strangford, David McNarry, who quit the party’s Assembly group over a row with Elliott – but who is still a party member and entitled to vote – has portrayed Nesbitt as shallow and McCallister as naive and immature.
He said he was on the “horns of a dilemma” over whether he could vote for either man.
After Saturday, not only will the UUP leader not be an Orangeman, but there will be no unionist leader at Stormont who
is in the Orange Order – neither DUP leader Peter Robinson nor Jim Allister, leader of the Traditional Unionist Voice, is an Orangeman.
Former TV news presenter Mike Nesbitt makes comments before announcing his Ulster Unionist party leadership bid
15 Mar 2012
Unionists should have nothing to fear from a border poll on the future of Northern Ireland in the UK, one of the contenders to lead the Ulster Unionist party has said.
Former Ulster Television News presenter Mike Nesbitt also said the Irish Republic could hold a parallel poll on whether it should rejoin the Commonwealth.
Nesbitt was responding to demands from the Sinn Féin president, Gerry Adams, that a referendum be held in Northern Ireland to determine its constitutional status. Last week the Northern Ireland secretary, Owen Paterson, ruled out any border poll in the near future.
In an interview with the Guardian prior to announcing his leadership bid on Thursday morning, Nesbitt said he wanted to reach out to a substantial number of Catholic voters in Northern Ireland who were pro-union but traditionally turned off voting for unionist parties.
On a possible vote on whether Northern Ireland should stay in the United Kingdom similar to the referendum Alex Salmond is proposing in Scotland, Nesbitt said: “I don’t think unionists should have anything to fear from a border poll but if we are going down that road why not have a poll on whether the Republic should rejoin the Commonwealth.”
The former TV news anchorman said he wanted to attract “every person who is pro-union” to the Ulster Unionist party.
“Nothing that I believe in is defined by religion. At the heart of politics is the economy. If Sinn Féin had had their way on the economy we would have been trapped inside the eurozone with the euro and the crisis it has produced. Instead we belong to one of the top seven economies in the world by being in the UK.
I would argue that even those who would be aspirationally pro-united Ireland but would quietly utter under their breath: ‘Please not yet.'”
Since the outgoing UUP leader, Tom Elliott, stepped down Nesbitt said he had been in “listening mode” within the party and scented a desire for radical change internally.
“There is an appetite to get this machine going again and a hunger to be positive,” he said.
But he ruled out ejecting the UUP from the five-party coalition at Stormont, which is dominated by the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Féin.
“We are a business as any party is and our business is measured in power not pounds and pence. I would not readily give up what power we had here. We also have to get back into the House of Commons. Politically we need to have better policies better communicated.”
He sidestepped questions over the last UUP MP, Lady Sylvia Hermon, who left the party in protest at its link-up with David Cameron and the Conservative party, an alliance seen as disastrous for the Ulster Unionists. The party now has no representation in the House of Commons.
Asked about wooing back the North Down MP to the UUP fold, Nesbitt said: “I am focused on our internal relationships. We need to concentrate on our own relationships first.”
Nesbitt’s supporters claim he has received the backing of four assembly members at Stormont, two UUP members of the House of Lords and a number of young unionists.
However, the frontrunner remains Elliott’s deputy, Danny Kennedy, who is expected to launch his bid for the leadership on Friday. The other runner in the field is South Down assembly member John McCallister, who has described himself as a liberal unionist.
The UUP will vote on their next leader at a special delegate conference in Belfast on 31 March. Once the dominant party in Northern Ireland, the UUP has been eclipsed as the leading unionist force by the Democratic Unionist party over the last decade as first Ian Paisley and later Peter Robinson shifted the latter party towards the centre ground and ultimately into a stable partnership with Sinn Féin.
By Martina Purdy
8 Mar 2012
Tom Elliott Tom Elliott has been under pressure within his party for some time
The Ulster Unionist leader Tom Elliott has told the BBC he is quitting as party leader.
His decision comes days ahead of the UUP’s deadline to formally re-nominate him for a further term.
He said he had support across the party but not everyone was willing to give him a chance.
He succeeded Sir Reg Empey as leader of the Ulster Unionist Party in September 2010, defeating Basil McCrea in the leadership contest.
Nominations for leader close next Friday.
In a statement on Thursday evening, Mr Elliott said he was aware that some people had not given him a “fair opportunity” to develop and progress many party initiatives.
“Some of this obstruction and hostility began immediately following my election as leader and has been relentless since then,” he said.
“However I accept that is part and parcel of politics.
“The party AGM is scheduled to take place on Saturday 31 March, I have informed the party chairman that I will not be putting my name forward for consideration for the position of leader at that meeting.”
Since 2010 Tom Elliott has faced a tough job trying to make the Ulster Unionists relevant again. His performance on the media has not helped – comments about not attending gay pride events or Gaelic matches alienated liberal unionists. Mr Elliott’s party is torn between those convinced the only route to survival is a move into opposition, and others – including the party’s only Stormont minister Danny Kennedy – who appear comfortable governing as part of a wider unionist group.
After his party’s courtship with the Conservatives formally ended, Mr Elliott authorised secret talks with the DUP. But he then fell out with his colleague David McNarry over how much detail of those negotiations should have been released to the newspapers. That row – which sparked internal disciplinary proceedings – appears to have precipitated Mr Elliott’s decision not to stand for re-election.
He thanked party members who had given him “tremendous support” during his time as leader and encouraged them to show the same backing for the new party leader.
Mr Elliott said he would continue as an MLA for Fermanagh & South Tyrone.
The party’s assembly team had a bad-tempered meeting on Monday in which there were bitter complaints about the state of the party, but sources said no one pointed the finger at the leader.
This followed a report in the Portadown Times that the party’s only minister Danny Kennedy was coming under pressure to stand as leader.
Mr Kennedy told the BBC that he had already informed Mr Elliott he had his support as leader.
On Tuesday, a Queen’s University survey suggested the party was perceived as the least influential in the executive.
Mr Kennedy, who is an MLA for Newry and Armagh and minister for regional development, paid tribute to Mr Elliott.
“Tom Elliott has given loyal and dedicated service to the Ulster Unionist Party as he has attempted to restore the political fortunes of our party,” he said.
“I want to pay a warm and genuine tribute to his many fine qualities of honesty, integrity and leadership which he has displayed throughout his tenure as leader.
“I will always be grateful to him on a personal basis for the opportunity he has afforded me to represent our party in the Northern Ireland executive.”
Northern Ireland’s First Minister and DUP leader, Peter Robinson, said he had a “good relationship” with Mr Elliott during his time as leader of the Ulster Unionist Party.
“In particular, I pay tribute to his efforts to build greater unionist co-operation. I wish him well as he continues as an MLA in Fermanagh and South Tyrone,” he added.
1 March 2012
THE Ulster Unionist party has cautioned against offering “undue sympathy” to republicans who are now “racked with guilt” about their terrorist actions.
Strangford MLA Mike Nesbitt was reacting to a report in yesterday’s News Letter in which south Armagh peacemaker Ian Bothwell said that some IRA members are privately in “torment” about their past and are “seeking forgiveness”.
“This is not a criticism of Ian Bothwell and his Crossfire Trust charity, but the fact is that there is a simple remedy – they should present themselves at the nearest PSNI station,” Mr Nesbitt said in a UUP statement.
“These people are seeking help to overcome their feeling of guilt for past actions but I would need to be persuaded about any sort of truth process. Until those who shout loudest for ‘truth’ agree to come clean about their own past we should not be doing anything.”
In particular, he cited scepticism of Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams and his assertions that he was never in the IRA, despite the fact that he had engaged in talks with the Government about IRA matters in the early 1970s.
“Before we can move forward in this area we also need to settle several issues,” Mr Nesbitt said. “Is it truth and justice we are looking for or are we seeking broader issues as well?
“We also have to agree for whose benefit we would begin such a process – for those most impacted by the violence or to enable society to move forwards? If you can agree on those issues then perhaps we could move forward.”
In his statement, he said that as a victims’ commissioner, he had the “horrific” experience of hearing about a would-be perpetrator who approached his intended victim to confess that he had targeted him decades ago.
Mr Nesbitt said: “The two men had been at school together, and the victim only survived because he happened to be standing chatting at a street corner under a bright light when the perpetrator approached.
“The gunman waited, but the weight of the weapon in his pocket finally forced him to panic and he ran away. Twenty years on, he approached his victim and confessed.”
But while the gunman found some comfort from his confession, his intended target had nightmares.
“We cannot allow any displacement of emotion,” Mr Nesbitt said. If former terrorists are feeling guilt because their hands are blood-stained for the rest of her life, then that is simply “a reflection of the human condition, and the inhumanity of their actions. Their only recourse is the rule of law”.
Speaking to the News Letter yesterday, Mr Nesbitt said: “I think there may be some victims of terrorism who are interested in a carefully managed process. There is no one-size-fits-all model.”
As for the possibility of a private process that is not open to public scrutiny, he felt it would “absolutely” be possible – if that is what individuals involved in specific cases desire.
He said: “If perpetrators and victims in a specific case could sit down and resolve the issues, if that worked for them then who am I to say that it should not happen.”
22 February 2012
As part of an on-going series of features on local female councillors, reporter Rory Mooney talks to the Ulster Unionist veteran – Mary Hamilton about growing up in Donegal, the impact of the Claudy bombing and how it shaped her political beliefs, her time on Derry City council, and her hopes for the future.
Retirement is a time for older people to enjoy the golden years of their lives, however Mary Hamilton says she has no plans to slow down, after she was re-elected yet again last year as a Ulster Unionist councillor for the Waterside.
Many in the city would be forgiven if they had said that Mary was from Claudy given her close ties to the village, however Mary is actually a Donegal girl born and bred.
“I was born and reared in Lifford, Donegal,” Mary said.
“Then when I married Ernie, we moved to Donemana in Tyrone but then we bought the hotel in Claudy in ‘71 and we were there for 22 years.
“Our land ran down to the border, so really I went to school and church in Strabane and I worked in Strabane,” said Mary.
Growing up in Lifford along the Donegal-Strabane border was a happy time for Mary, as community relations between Catholics and Protestants were good she explained.
“In those days there was no problem whatsoever. My father and uncle were two of the greatest Orangemen you would have got in Donegal and on the Twelfth of July the neighbours would milk our cows and help us and we did the same with them.
“At that time everybody respected everybody else and there was never any problem, it was great-the harmony.”
Mary admits, she was not very politically motivated whilst growing up. It wasn’t until she married her husband and life-long Ulster Unionist party member Ernie, as she worked as his constituency worker during his time as a councillor, that Mary became an activist.
“I wasn’t much into politics growing up but I was a Protestant and I was brought up in an Orange family through my father. Then I met my husband in ‘57, at an Orange service in Strabane and we got married in ‘64 and he was always political minded, he was always in the Unionist Party.
“I always believed that I was the woman behind the man and I was helping him a lot with the constituency work.”
July 31, 1972 in Claudy was the scene of one the Troubles worst days. Mary was caught up in the tragic events as three car bombs exploded in the centre of the village claiming the lives of nine people.
Mary explains how she witnessed the events unfolding that day: “It was tough, both Catholics and Protestants were killed. Our business was completely wrecked. I saw people laying dead with their insides hanging out of them, it was awful.
“There was one wee chap who was at his first day at work, he had been up the street when the first bomb went off and he came down to me and he said ‘I hurt my hand’, two minutes after his head was cut off when a bomb went off outside our place.”
1972 is a year that is forever etched into Mary’s mind forever. Following the Claudy bombing her brother-in-law was murdered by the IRA in December of that year.
“The (Claudy) bombing was in July and he was shot in December. He was a part-time UDR man. He was shot out here at Croppy Hill reservoir. He was a electrician just out doing a day’s work.
“I still feel bitter about his death because I went to school to pick up his daughter who was only six and I had to tell her that her father was dead, it was traumatic.
“Nobody has been brought to justice for that either which is hard to cope with,” she said.
The tragic events of 1972 spurred Mary on to use politics to help people for the better.
“I believe in helping people. Even before I was elected I believed in helping people, I firmly believe in doing to others what they would do to you, so when I left Claudy I recieved a lot of cards from people thanking me for helping them. The bomb didn’t make me bitter in terms of politics it just made me want to help people.”
Despite campaigning for and being married to a party member, Mary did not join the Ulster Unionist party until the 1990’s when her husband Ernie gave her the confidence to stand for election.
“I was highly honoured that they even thought I was worthy of it. I believe that if people trust you and vote for you then you have back a lot.”
Mary’s first outing as an Ulster Unionist candidate in 1997 did not end with her election, however in 2001 Mary was elected in the Waterside ward to Derry City council.
“It was wonderful to think that people took time to actually vote for me-it was a great honour and this is why I have to give back to the people.”
A personal highlight for Mary since her time on Derry City council has been serving two terms as deputy Mayor, which she still counts as a humbling experience.
“I remember the night I was first appointed deputy Mayor, I went home thinking that I’m the second citizen of this great big city and people trusted me, I really felt great. The first time I was deputy mayor I worked closely with Kathleen McCloskey. Here was two women and we’ve got the top two jobs, it was great,” she said.
Unionism in the past has been accused of being very male dominated, however both Unionist parties have been making attempts to bring women to the front line politics, something which Mary is in full agreement with.
“Some people think that women should be in the house,” Mary laughs.
“But you can see now women are more confident and they are coming into the party and that’s how it should be.”
Last year Mary celebrated her 70th birthday surrounded by close friends and constituents but she explained that she could not be able to juggle her council responsibilites without the help of her family, especially her three daughters, Miriam, Eleanor and Heather.
“My daughters organised my birthday party last year and they organised my 55th wedding anniversary as well. They’re great, they really are a big help, they’re more like my sisters than my daughters,” Mary smiles.
Mary is now an 11 year veteran of local politics and she shows no signs of slowing down as she says that her constituency work gives her a sense of purpose and fulfilment.
“It gives me great satisfaction in helping people, I’d rather be out helping people than being sat in some meeting but I’ve taken on the role so that’s my job to do that.”
1 Feb 2012
David McNarry has said he feels hurt by the way he has been treated by the Ulster Unionist party.
The Strangford MLA quit the Ulster Unionist group in the assembly in a dispute with the party leader Tom Elliott about an interview he gave to a newspaper.
UUP’s Tom Elliott, who last year put his foot in his mouth when he called Sinn Féin supporters ‘scum’
Mr McNarry said on BBC Radio Ulster’s Nolan Show he was determined to put the record straight.
“I have been accused in the wrong,” he said.
“I have been set up to satisfy some very voracious appetites to get rid of me.
“But at the end of the day this is politics, it’s a very dirty game.
“I have experienced that level of it now.”
The UUP’s Mike Nesbitt has replaced Mr McNarry as deputy chair of the assembly’s education committee.
Mr McNarry announced on Friday he was quitting the UUP assembly team after being removed from his post on the committee.
On Monday, Mr Elliott said he demoted Mr McNarry because he went too far in a newspaper interview.
He said he had disciplined Mr McNarry after he told the Belfast Telegraph that a UUP junior minister could work under a DUP first minister.
In response, Mr McNarry refuted Mr Elliott’s version of events and told the BBC’s Stormont Today programme that the Ulster Unionist leader had become the prisoner of a power struggle within the party.
Meanwhile, in a separate development, Lesley Macaulay who stood as a candidate for the UUP in the last assembly election, has become a member of the Northern Ireland Conservatives.
She has been joined by former Ulster Unionist Party officer Bill Manwaring.
Mr Manwaring who was the West Belfast spokesman for the party before he quit last December, said the UUP cannot deliver the kind of policies and services he entered politics to pursue.
2 January 2012
A CIVIL servant who went on to become a British ambassador attempted to get the secretary of state involved in a plan to remove Ulster Unionist leader Jim Molyneaux, previously classified files reveal.
David Blatherwick – who went on to become Sir David and served as British Ambassador to the United Nations, Ireland and Egypt during the late 1980s and 1990s – was an official at the NIO who in 1981 regularly liaised with senior members of the main parties.
In one dramatic exchange contained in files released under the 30-year rule, Mr Blatherwick suggested that the secretary of state abandon what he claimed was the NIO’s policy of “not interfering” in local parties’ affairs.
It is not clear whether the advice ever reached Jim Prior, who had been secretary of state for just over two months at the time, but the “particularly unwise” suggestion led to a withering rejection from the head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, Ewart Bell.
Mr Blatherwick’s note, which came just 10 days after the murder of Ulster Unionist MP Robert Bradford by the IRA, said: “The events of the last few days have almost certainly put the final nail in Mr Molyneaux’s coffin as leader of the Official Unionist Party.
“He performed abysmally at Belfast City Hall yesterday. He has been unable to take the fight to Mr Paisley.
“His party is fragmenting, with [Harold] McCusker and Carson going towards the paramilitaries, [John] Taylor towards Dr Paisley and the devolutionist group acting as a time bomb in the rump.
“I do not believe we can do anything to prop up Mr Molyneaux. His continued leadership is not just an embarrassment but a grave disadvantage to everyone because while he is there no alternative can emerge to focus ‘moderate’ unionist support and present the alternative to Paisleyism.”
The memo added: “The problem is, of course, finding an alternative leader. The obvious choice would be Mr McCusker, who has in the past refused to mount a challenge because of illness and out of loyalty to Mr Molyneaux.
“However, Mr McCusker’s views have changed radically over the past 10 days and his address at Harland and Wolff yesterday was able.”
Mr Blackerwick said that the only other real contender was John Taylor and “like most members of the party, I doubt whether he is capable – or willing – to present an alternative to Mr Paisley”.
The memo continued, explicitly requesting that the NIO be allowed to interfere in the UUP’s affairs.
“In the past, we have carefully refrained from interfering in the affairs of political parties here. However, I wonder whether in these circumstances we should not break our rule and urge Mr McCusker to unseat Mr Molyneaux.
“Such an approach would presumably have to be made by the secretary of state, on the basis that in current circumstances Northern Ireland could not afford Mr Molyneaux.”
Mr Blackerwick then made further suggestions as to what the secretary of state may be encouraged to do: “If he felt able to do this, the secretary of state might also urge Mr McCusker to put a basic point across to Ulster Protestants: that the democratic government of the UK lies in Westminster; that there is no room for people who try to usurp government’s functions and that all citizens in NI must choose – not to choose is to make a choice against the government.”
However, the following day Mr Blatherwick’s paper received a stern rebuke from Mr Bell, later Sir Ewart, and no further record of the incident is recorded.
On November 25, 1981, the head of the civil service wrote a confidential response to just five people: “I have just seen Mr Blatherwick’s minute of November 24, suggesting that the secretary of state should ‘interfere’ in the affairs of the Official Unionist Party in an effort to bring about a change of leadership.
“I think that it would be a serious mistake to do this. To begin with, it would become known and be criticised on the grounds that the secretary of state was stepping outside his field of responsibility.
“At a time when we are having to underline where the authority of the secretary of state applies, that would be particularly unwise.
“Second, I do not think that the OUP needs to be told that it lacks leadership and is losing ground to more extreme unionist groups.
“Moves are afoot to unseat Mr Molyneaux and would by now have had results were an obvious successor in the wings. Recent events will have gone a long way to bringing about the necessary change. When it takes place is the time for the secretary of state to move – definitely not before.”
Handwritten on top of the memo are the words: “Mr Bell, I spoke accordingly!” and an illegible signature.