I'll quit UUP over GAA snub, says rugby hero

ROW: Ringland rages at new leader

Steven McCaffery

Former Irish rugby international Trevor Ringland has threatened to resign from the Ulster Unionist Party after the party's new leader was accused of snubbing Gaelic games.

Fermanagh Orangeman Tom Elliott was voted in as the party's new figurehead following a campaign in which he pledged never to attend a GAA game.

But Mr Ringland, a prominent UUP member and a noted campaigner against sectarianism, threatened to resign from the party unless his new boss agreed to attend a Gaelic football match.

Mr Elliott later said he had worked behind the scenes to help GAA clubs in his local area, but was against public gestures he branded as "tokenism".

Mr Ringland said: "I would guarantee him that if there is an Ulster team in the All-Ireland final next year I will get him two tickets for that final.

"I want to hear him say in the next few days that if I get him those tickets he will go to that match.

"Because I see people who are reaching out to the unionist community, reaching out to try to build a shared society here and they need encouragement as well.

"They need to see and hear a unionism that actually wants to have a relationship with them."

Mr Ringland had a distinguished rugby career, winning 34 caps for Ireland between 1981 and 1988.

Mr Elliott won two-thirds support from the 1,000 UUP delegates as he defeated Basil McCrea, who had promised to modernise the party.


Mr Elliott's traditional unionist message, and his background as a senior member of the Orange Order and a former Ulster Defence Regiment soldier, saw the 46-year-old secure an easy victory.

During the leadership campaign he sought to win grassroots backing by telling supporters he would never attend a GAA event or a gay pride event.

He was criticised for both claims but today said his critics were making too much of it.

"I have to say, I am not involved in tokenism," he said.

"People know in the community that I come from, and this is something I need to get out to the wider community, all the work I do with communities, including GAA clubs behind the scenes... and I will continue to do that work.

"I am not anti-GAA, but there are still huge difficulties in the community about the GAA.

"And I accept, as someone who is an Orangeman, there are difficulties with parts of the community in Northern Ireland with the Orange Order."

Mr Elliott succeeded Reg Empey, who resigned as leader after his party's disastrous election showing.

He is in favour of closer co-operation with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) which has become the dominant voice in unionism.

DUP leader Peter Robinson congratulated Mr Elliott on his election as leader.

"The DUP is ready and willing to explore areas of co-operation and unity with our colleagues in the Ulster Unionist Party," said Mr Robinson.