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EDITIONS
Thursday, 3 October, 2002, 08:54 GMT 09:54 UK
Hunter defends DUP move
Andrew Hunter MP
Andrew Hunter has been an MP since 1983
Conservative MP Andrew Hunter has been explaining why he has decided to quit the party and join the Democratic Unionist Party.

Mr Hunter hopes to stand in the Lagan Valley constituency for Ian Paisley's anti-Agreement party in next May's Northern Ireland Assembly elections.

The announcement came on Wednesday after the MP sent a letter to Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith to say he was leaving Westminster at the next general election.

Mr Hunter said Northern Ireland was approaching a pivotal moment in its history and that Ulster Unionists were not up to the challenge.

Ian Paisley: Party leader
Ian Paisley: Party leader

"I think the collective leadership of the UUP has a lot to account for in its handling of events over the last few years," he told BBC Radio Ulster on Thursday.

"The DUP has a consistent approach of opposition to the Belfast agreement - to its implementation - and that I think is the way forward"

Mr Hunter, who sat on the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee until last year, spoke of his "long-standing and deep interest" in the affairs of the province.

He said he felt closest to the DUP having suported their position over the Agreement in the last two or three years, and intends to live in Northern Ireland.

"My political home is with the mindset of the DUP and I very much hope I can play a part in their affairs," he said.

He said he was a friend of anti-Agreement Ulster Unionist Jeffrey Donaldson who hopes to get elected to the assembly in the Lagan Valley constituency.


I see the DUP emerging as a broad church, I see it reflecting the breadths of unionism

Andrew Hunter

"I hope our friendship will survive," said Mr Hunter.

"I have supported and agreed with many of his actions in the past, but I think we are approaching a key moment in the history of Northern Ireland.

"The past few years must be held to account, the future debated."

He said the main difference was that Mr Donaldson was fighting his cause from within the UUP.

Mr Hunter added: "I see the DUP as a rapidly changing organisation..... emerging as a broad church. I see it reflecting the breadths of unionism."

The DUP's Lagan Valley association will decide on Monday who will stand in the assembly elections.

The association's chairman, Ian Paisley Junior, said Mr Hunter's candidature was "probably one of the most significant developments within unionist politics for several decades".

"While the UUP rips itself apart, selects a collection of unknowns and unproven individuals whilst ditching others, the DUP is clearly an appealing option for many people both here in Northern Ireland and across the United Kingdom," he said.

Mr Hunter, who was elected to Westminster in 1983, is to become an independent Conservative for the remainder of this parliament, as under the Tory constitution he would be unable to stand for Stormont.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC NI's Paddy O'Flaherty:
gauges reaction in the Lagan Valley town of Lisburn to Andrew Hunter's decision to stand for the DUP
Conservative MP Andrew Hunter:
"The DUP has a consistent approach of opposition to the Belfast Agreement"
See also:

03 Oct 02 | N Ireland
28 Jan 99 | Latest News
28 Aug 01 | Politics
27 Aug 01 | Politics
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