Could a unionist unity candidate work?

FORMER UUP MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, Lord Ken Maginnis, has declared his party will not be standing aside in the constituency for the forthcoming General Election.

Although the DUP insists that an agreement is still possible, the intervention of the UUP peer will further diminish any lingering hopes of an agreed unionist candidate to take on incumbent Sinn Fein MP, Michelle Gildernew, in a bid to reclaim the seat for unionism for the first time in nine years.

Lord Maginnis – who represented the rural constituency for 18 years until his retirement in 2001 – admits unionist voters in the west are "irritated" by the constant wrangling of their political representatives.

However, he also accused the DUP of being more concerned in their own "self interest" than the wider wellbeing of unionism, given their claim to be the largest unionist party in the constituency.

Despite private talks between the UUP and the DUP in recent months

over the possibility of an agreed candidate, both parties have nominated their own respective high-profile representatives to run for Parliament.

UUP MLA Tom Elliott was selected last month to represent his party's new

electoral alliance with the Conservatives – standing under the

banner of the 'Ulster Conservatives and Unionists – New Force' (UCUNF).

The DUP has selected Executive minister Arlene Foster, who says she would be happy to stand aside if a compromise candidate can be found.

Despite the DUP leadership saying it would stand aside in either Fermanagh or South Belfast to give the Ulster Unionists a free run in their chosen constituency, matters have been complicated by the Conservatives insisting that every voter in Northern Ireland must have the chance to vote for the Conservatives.

However, despite the DUP unilaterally standing aside for 'unionist unity' to support Lady Sylvia Hermon in North Down, the party insists that it will not do so in Fermanagh/South Tyrone.

Hopes of reaching agreement on a "unity candidate", not aligned to either party, also appear to have faltered.

The main name associated with that possibility, former PSNI Det Supt

Norman Baxter, has rejected the parties' overtures.

Echoing recent comments by former UUP leader Lord Trimble, who ruled

out the possibility of agreed UUP-DUP candidates, when asked if the Ulster Unionists would consider standi aside, Lord Maginnis replied: "My party will not stand aside – that I can say with certainty."

Stressing that he was not aware of any ongoing negotiations between the parties at this late stage, the Ulster peer said: "An agreed candidate would have been much more appropriate in 2001 when I had held the seat for 18 years and built up a majority of 13,800. I deliberately

retired in order to ensure I wouldn't fall 'off the perch' while in office, so that somebody else could hold the seat for 18 years.

"Thanks to the intervention of the DUP, we lost the seat by 57 votes," he added, referring to the latter party's backing for independent

unionist, Jim Dixon.

"In terms of an agreed candidate, the DUP have neither right nor claim to any part of that. History will bear witness in as far as that is the case."

Despite Ms Foster attracting a substantially higher vote than Mr Elliott in the 2005 poll, Mr Maginnis argued Fermanagh and South Tyrone remains an "Ulster Unionist constituency".

"We have one of the most able MLAs. If he (Tom Elliott] decides to run for the seat then I think he would have a very good chance of winning it. But it depends on whether the DUP are still prepared to carry on a 'dog in the manger' campaign."

He added: "The last election the DUP fought was based on what turned out to be deliberate and contrived untruths. They are the rollover party and by tinkering unnecessarily with the Belfast Agreement they have weakened the position of unionists."

Asked if ordinary unionist voters were fed up with the inter-party bickering, Mr Maginnis replied: "I think they are irritated more than angry."

The former MP said having an abstentionist voice in Parliament is "very bad" for the area.