WELL-KNOWN local councillor Raymond Farrell has revealed that the Ulster Unionists choice of a successor for MP Tom Elliott was a factor in his decision to leave the party.
In a candid interview with the Herald Mr Farrell has revealed that the decision to appoint Dungannon man Neil Sommerville ahead of Lisnaskea-based victims group worker Kenny Donaldson, caused difficulties with fellow party members at a local level.
He also said the ‘populist’ politics of leader Mike Nesbitt all led to him to handing in his notice last Monday.
“The whole Kenny Donaldson thing did impact me. I felt we had a golden opportunity here to elect a young, articulate, forward-thinking individual to take on the position of MLA. The very fact that he topped the poll within membership and then I feel was discarded, I just found that very distasteful.”
The one time DUP man, from Ballinamallard, joined the Ulster Unionist Party in 2010, replacing neighbour Tom Elliott on Fermanagh District Council.
Even at the time of his selection the mental health practitioner claimed there were people within the party locally who “had a difficulty with it”. “And that would have probably always been there in a sense, but you always attempt to rise above it and concentrate and focus on the issues. You need a thick skin in politics, you get on with, but I suppose there came a time of late that we did probably find it more exhausting and stressful at times and we felt we would have to make a decision.”
Mr Farrell reflected upon his “very good relationships with the vast majority of Ulster Unionist councillors”, but admitted his struggles with the direction of the party under Mike Nesbitt.
“I think politics has to be based on principles, not on populism. Of late I feel that trying to marry the views from the right and the views of the liberal wing is not a good foundation to build your policy on.”
One area of contention came during the recent party conference where Mr Nesbitt said members who oppose gay marriage may be “on the wrong side of history”. He abstained from the vote in Stormont on Monday.
“As a personal conviction I wouldn’t be in favour of the marriage issue,” Mr Farrell explained.
“I’m not convinced that was a wise statement (’wrong side of history’), because it was making people who would have convictions, maybe come to a place and ask ‘am I right in this? Am I out of touch?’ I think it’s important that we respect people who do hold Christian views.”
In the wake of Mr Farrell’s resignation a statement was released from an UUP spokesman, which described his decision as “regrettable”. The statement said that the councillor has a “litany of failures to his name”, and claimed he had failed to attend Ulster Unionist group meetings of the council, meetings of the Ulster Unionist Councillors Association and the recent annual conference.
“I’m disappointed in that and I don’t wish to get involved in any gutter politics,” responded Mr Farrell.
“I was elected on the first count over the last two elections and that was based on hard work and people on the ground have shown election after election how they see Raymond Farrell and they’re not really worried about someone sitting in a little office in Belfast who is out of touch.
“If I had a litany of failures I wouldn’t be elected again so they have to answer for that.”