Below is the text of the speech made by Mike Nesbitt, the Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, in Fivemiletown on 7 April 2015.
The first time I attended an Ulster Unionist event was in this very hotel, The Valley, Fivemiletown.
I had just been appointed as one of the four Victims Commissioners, and the first political call we took was from an MLA by the name of Tom Elliott. He wanted me to come to speak to his Association.
Being one of four co-equals in the Commission, it wasn’t a simple question of offering a “yes” or a “no”. Whatever the answer was would set a precedent that could have seen us locked away from political view – or out every night attending the smallest branch meeting and Cumainn in the country!
The reason I ended up attending was simple – Tom would not give up. He would not take “no” for an answer. He saw no good reason why his members should not have the opportunity to listen to a Commissioner for Victims and Survivors; to question a Commissioner for Victims and Survivors; and to send the Commissioner on his way back to Belfast in no doubt about what people in Fermanagh and South Tyrone thought about certain aspects of Dealing with the Past, such as the definition of a victim.
That determination is just one of the many qualities that leaves me in no doubt that Tom Elliott will make a fantastic Member of Parliament for Fermanagh and South Tyrone.
One other story about Tom. In 2010, I found myself helping Tom in his Leadership bid after Lord Empey resigned. We were talking about his speech for the night of the vote at the Waterfront Hall. During a coffee break, Tom started reminiscing about a night a few years previously when he found himself 110 miles from home, parked up in four inches of snow, and delivering a speech to a hall packed to the rafters with …. six people.
That showed me another quality of Tom’s – dedication.
And his reaction when I said it should be in the speech demonstrated a third, because he didn’t see it as noteworthy at all, just part of the daily slog of being an elected representative.
So, Determination, Dedication, lack of Ego … three of the values that I admire in Tom, a man with service in his DNA, be it as a political activist and elected representative, or during the years when he donned an army uniform and put himself in harm’s way to protect his family, this community and the country at large.
Tom Elliott is a man with the character, the values and the life experience that position him as worthy of the electorate’s support next month.
And be in no doubt, there are more than enough unionist votes out there to once again make Fermanagh and South Tyrone a unionist seat at Westminster.
This was and will again be a seat represented by a unionist MP.
It’s tempting to dwell for a while on the history of this seat, who held it and how it was lost, but it’s well enough known and there’s nothing we can do about it now but put it right! On the 7th of May!
After last May’s Local Government results, my thoughts turned immediately to this General Election and one of my first priorities was to explore whether we could reach an understanding within Unionism that put country over party and set a target of unseating some abstentionist MPs.
My focus immediately fell upon Fermanagh and South Tyrone. What a message that would send out if unionism retook the most westerly constituency in the United Kingdom.
At Conference last October, I made the call – we would support the sitting MP in North Belfast in the face of a real challenge from Sinn Féin, if we were given a clear run here in Fermanagh and South Tyrone.
The chance to retake a seat
The chance to reverse a trend.
The opportunity to put unionism back on the front foot, confident, positive, progressive, with a hardworking, determined, dedicated MP, rather than more of the same, with people having to endure a Member of Parliament who did not even turn up to vote against Welfare Reform at Westminster, even though her Party continues to threaten to bring down the devolved institutions over the issue.
Abstention is the ticket the incumbent is running on. If abstentionism was ever a valid political policy, it is well past its sell by date.
I have sat with Sinn Fein in discussions with the Prime Minister at Stormont House, arguing over issues that Parliament has already decided upon. The people of Fermanagh South Tyrone deserve an MP who makes their case in the right place at the right time – not long after the votes are counted.
I am delighted Tom Elliott has support right across the unionist community in this Election and acknowledge and welcome senior members of other parties who are here this evening.
I hope every unionist comes out to Vote Elliott in a month’s time.
I also appeal to nationalists to lend him their vote as well, because this is not about a sectarian head count. This is about who can best represent all the people of Fermanagh and South Tyrone at Westminster.
This is about recognising that the Union is best for all our people – it makes sense politically, economically, socially and culturally. It makes common sense and nationalists know that as well as unionists.
So, I say to you: Vote Tom Elliott on the 7th of May.
I ask of the people of Fermanagh and South Tyrone: Please Vote Tom Elliott on the 7th of May.
I encourage the electorate to hope for better.
So, on this, the 7th of April, let us focus our energies on the 7th of May.
It is the chance to transform the political landscape here in Fermanagh and South Tyrone.