Northern Ireland

Leadership could come up at Ulster Unionist meetings

Tom Elliott
Image caption Tom Elliott is under pressure within his party

A source close to the Ulster Unionist Party leadership has said two upcoming meetings of the party are not evidence of pressure on leader Tom Elliot.

A meeting of the party executive is to take place on Saturday and a general meeting on 4 June.

"I do not regard executive meetings as evidence of crisis or pressure," the source said.

However, another source, who is opposed to Mr Elliott's leadership, said that a challenge to him was likely.

They said that a so-called stalking horse candidate for the leadership would probably emerge.

To challenge the leader, a candidate needs 30 signatures and must put their nomination in before 1700 BST on Friday.

Any member of the party can put their name forward to challenge the leader at the AGM on 4 June.

The letters announcing the AGM have already been distributed.

Disappointing results for his party at the assembly and local council elections and his comments about Sinn Fein supporters, have led to criticism of Mr Elliott.

There appear to be at least three views on the leader within the UUP.

There are those who want to keep Tom Elliott despite a disappointing election and those who want to dump him in favour of a moderniser.

A third view seems to be there is no point in changing the leader unless there is an agreed strategy and direction - and once that's agreed the leader will be tailored to that position.

Whoever is stronger within the party will determine who the leader is.

Tom Elliott does have support within the party - for example Lord Maginnis defending him - so the battle lines are drawn.

The Ulster Unionists lost two seats in the assembly elections and also fared badly in the council elections - going down to just three seats in Belfast City Council.

Mr Elliott was also widely criticised for calling some Sinn Fein supporters who heckled him at a count centre in Omagh "scum".

He succeeded Sir Reg Empey as leader of the Ulster Unionist Party in September of last year, defeating Basil McCrea in the leadership contest.

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