Political perspectives

In the final of our series of interviews

with Northern Ireland’s new MPs,

Adam Morton speaks to Fermanagh and South Tyrone’s Tom Elliott MP, whose election in May 2015 was part of the Ulster Unionists’ return to Westminster for the first time since 2010.

 

Issue_img3How did your interest in politics begin?

I always had a passing interest in politics from local councils to Westminster but in the 1980s and early 1990s that’s all it was. I would have helped the Ulster Unionist Party campaign at election time but never considered running as a candidate. My first election was in the mid-1990s – one of the party’s candidates had withdrawn at a late stage and they asked me to fill the spot. I wasn’t expected to win and I didn’t, but it was an honour to be asked to do it.

What do you think are the key factors in your electoral success?

I try to think about the electorate and what I would want my elected representative to do. During my time as party leader and even now as an MP I don’t see myself as a professional politician, I see myself as someone who has a broader interest than just politics and someone who is part of the community. I think the people of Fermanagh and South Tyrone have responded positively to that and see me as someone who is approachable and doesn’t just live in a political bubble.

What do you hope to achieve for your constituency during this parliamentary term and what in your view are the key economic and social issues facing Fermanagh and South Tyrone?

I want Fermanagh and South Tyrone to be an integrated part of the UK. It has been 14 years since the constituency has had a representative actively sit at Westminster so I want to renew our approach to the rest of the UK and that has had a good response so far. Not all MPs have an interest in Northern Ireland but there is much more interest than I had anticipated. I am sure that developing these relationships can only be positive for Fermanagh and South Tyrone.

Economically we have opportunities around certain industries like the engineering industry, quarry industry and the steel industry. Locally people tend to think of the companies that operate in these areas as small indigenous businesses even though they can employ around 500 people. Trying to grow these indigenous businesses is important, they have been here for years and are here to stay. On the social side we are a border county and we need to deal with the economic and health issues this creates. In my role as an MP I can help foster cross-border relations and I have never been afraid to do that.

In Fermanagh and South Tyrone we had Fine Gael’s Heather Humphries speak at the Ulster Unionist AGM, she comes from the north Monaghan village of Drum and many people would consider her a local. It is important to develop these positive relationships as they have obvious benefits for people on both sides of the border.

What are your impressions of life at Westminster?

It is fast moving and very unpredictable. A sea change can take place very quickly here and when the government decide they want to go in a certain direction they throw their weight behind it and take the decision very quickly, you have to expect the unexpected.

The whole infrastructure of Westminster and its global recognition has also impressed me. Major players around the world, including people in Washington, watch what happens here. The influence that it has is even more than I anticipated. Outside the Commons Chamber, other parties have been good at getting us involved in All-Party Groups and the Conservative party and the Labour party have been very helpful in this respect.

What aspects of your working week do you find the most enjoyable and the most challenging?

There is no such thing as a typical week. We don’t get the next week’s agenda until Friday and that leaves me with a very short amount of time to prepare for the week ahead. Travelling from my constituency to Westminster can prove challenging. Without any delays, travelling can take six hours. The drive to the airport is around two hours and once at the airport you have to go through security and wait a short amount of time for the flight. The opportunity to do any work in this period comes in intervals and I never have long enough to start anything substantial.

The parliamentary week runs from Monday to Thursday and is very busy. During debates in the Commons it is important to make sure you do all you can to get your voice heard as you might not always be called to speak. The highlight of my week is undoubtedly being involved in a debate. The rules at Westminster for participating in a debate are quite strict, you must be there for the frontbench speakers, you must be there for three speakers before you speak and you must remain for two speakers after you speak and be present as the frontbench winds up the debate. Getting up to speak is a huge honour, knowing that I am representing Fermanagh and South Tyrone in the mother of all parliaments is something that fills me with great pride.

I also attend a number of all All-Party Groups on issues relevant to my constituency like rural issues, agricultural issues and small business issues and again try to get my point across in these groups. There are also lots of lobby groups trying to grab my attention but I have to focus on what is important to the people of Northern Ireland and how best to serve their interests.

What motivates you?

My desire to do the the best for my constituency and the people of Northern Ireland is what drives me. I always take life in my stride and deal with situations as they arise. I’m just a humble farmer who has been selected to serve the people of Fermanagh and South Tyrone to the best of his ability.

How do you switch off?

I enjoy spending my free evenings with my wife Anne, and my two children who are 13 and 10. Football also takes up a lot of my spare time I also have a keen interest in Ballinamallard United FC, I attend games and help the club out when I can. I also enjoy reading books, particularly autobiographies. Aside from that I have the farm at home and I love spending time on it.

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