Page last updated at 17:49 GMT, Friday, 9 April 2010 18:49 UK

Unionist 'unity' candidate agreed

Political reaction to the announcement of Rodney Connor's candidacy

The DUP and Ulster Conservatives and Unionists (UCU) have agreed on running a joint unionist candidate in Fermanagh and South Tyrone.

Rodney Connor, a former chief executive of Fermanagh District Council, will stand as an independent.

Mr Connor said that he is prepared to accept the Conservative whip, but, on matters concerning Northern Ireland, he will vote on basis of what he believes is in the best interests of his constituents.

The DUP and the UCU have been discussing the potential for unity candidates in South Belfast and Fermanagh and South Tyrone.

Mr Connor said he believed he had demonstrated a "proven track record" of delivering in the constituency.

"I know what Fermanagh and South Tyrone needs and I believe that I am well equipped to help deliver it," he said.

He added that at a time of financial difficulties "it is vital that a constituency so far geographically removed from Westminster has its voice and influence maximised in the House of Commons."

Support

Ulster Unionist MLA for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, Tom Elliott, said he was withdrawing his candidacy because he believed Mr Connor was the ideal choice.

DUP assembly member for the constituency, Arlene Foster, described Mr Connor as "of the utmost integrity and of the highest character".

She added: "The DUP has always made it clear that we are prepared to step aside in the event that an independent unionist candidate could be agreed."

The Conservative Party has previously stated that a UCU candidate will stand in every constituency in Northern Ireland in the general election, a position confirmed by Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Theresa May as late as Thursday morning.

BBC NI political correspondent Gareth Gordon said that despite Mr Connor's insistence that he will take the Tory whip on issues not related to Northern Ireland, his candidature "seems to fall short of the Conservative commitment".

Speaking on Thursday, the Shadow Justice Secretary, Dominic Grieve, said the decision to back Mr Connor as an Independent candidate was not a u-turn.

Mr Grieve said although the Conservatives and Unionists had originally said they would stand in all local constituencies the decision to back an Independent candidate in this constituency is exceptional.

He said the Conservatives and Unionists are happy to accommodate Mr Connor because he will take the Conservative Whip, if elected, to Westminster.

Mr Grieve made it clear there was no question of the Conservative Party and UUP backing independent candidates in other constituencies.

He added that the UCU candidate was in place in South Belfast and would remain so.

'Fraud'

SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie said the decision to run a joint candidate was "sectarian" and accused the Tory leader of acquiescing in the move.

She added: "David Cameron is guilty of propping up sectarian politics and reinforcing sectarian division.

"It serves as proof that his pledge that his party's foray into political life here was non-sectarian is a lie.

"Furthermore the claim that the so-called 'unity' candidate will take the Tory whip is no more than a fig leaf to cover their sectarian tracks."

The decision to run a single unionist candidate has also been condemned by the Alliance Party.

Its North Down candidate Stephen Farry said the Conservative claim to be a party of a "shared future" was a "fraud".

He added: "For the Conservatives to be a party to this pact undermines any vestiges of credibility to their claim to be representing change and a new type of politics."

The sitting Sinn Fein MP, Michelle Gildernew, said the returning to the "old agenda of division and inequality" was a backward step.

"I think this move and Rodney Connor's candidacy, shows that they want to return to the days when nationalists in this area were unrepresented, and I think we need to ensure that doesn't happen again."

In the general election in 2005, the combined vote for Sinn Fein and the SDLP was almost 26,000 while the vote for the DUP and the Ulster Unionists was almost 23,000 combined.

Also standing in the constituency are current MP Michelle Gildernew, Fearghal McKinney of the SDLP and the Alliance Party's Vasundhara Kamble.



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