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Tuesday, 15 May, 2001, 19:09 GMT 20:09 UK

Candidate alleges unionist smear

The independent unionist candidate in Fermanagh South Tyrone has claimed a smear campaign by fellow unionists has forced him to withdraw from the general election.

Jim Dixon said on Tuesday night: "The IRA attempted to destroy my body and nearly succeeded.

"But I never thought I would live to see the day that fellow unionists would try to destroy my character."

Earlier on Tuesday, he said he had been advised by his family that the election would be "too much" for him.

Mr Dixon was severely injured in the IRA's 1987 Enniskillen bomb.

His surprise withdrawal leaves only one unionist candidate in the field - the Ulster Unionist Party's James Cooper.

Mr Cooper said: "I am appalled that Jim Dixon should for one moment think that any member of my party should be involved in any form of smear campaign against him.

"And I think we're entitled to ask him to disclose to me immediately on a confidential basis what the substance of any such allegation is."

Nationalist hopes

If things stand as they are this could make it much easier for the UUP to retain the seat.

Last week the Democratic Unionist Party withdrew from the same contest in favour of Mr Dixon who, like the DUP, is anti-Agreement.

It is unclear so far whether Mr Dixon's departure from the race will see the DUP's Maurice Morrow re-enter the fray.

The DUP have only said they are surprised at Jim Dixon's decision and have not ruled out trying to persuade him to change his mind.

Deputy leader Peter Robinson said no decision had yet been made on what they would do if Mr Dixon did not run.

The constituency has not had more than one unionist fighting for the Westminster seat since 1979.

The prospect of a split unionist vote had boosted the hopes of nationalists. Michelle Gildernew is fighting it for Sinn Fein and Tommy Gallagher is the SDLP's candidate.

The outgoing MP Ken Maginnis who held the seat for the UUP had a 13,688 UUP majority over Sinn Fein at the last election.

Family duty

In a statement about his decision Mr Dixon said: "Over the past few days friends and family have approached me to reconsider my decision to stand.

"They all firmly believe my health would be unable to cope with a rigorous campaign and serving as a member of parliament.

"Having carefully considered these approaches, and, as a person who believes their first duty is to their family, I have decided not to stand.

"I will make no further comment on the matter."

Ms Gildernew has called for nationalist and republican voters to now swing behind her campaign to win the seat.

She said: "The decision by Mr Dixon is a challenge to nationalists and republicans of Fermanagh and South Tyrone.

"Twenty years ago, they voted for (IRA hunger striker) Bobby Sands and then Owen Carron.

"The people of this constituency understood the importance of their vote then. We need that tactical approach today."


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