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Belfast Live
Belfast Live
Conor Coyle

Omagh UUP candidate says people sick of ‘negative unionism’

The UUP council candidate for Omagh town has said people in the local community are sick of what he calls "negative unionism|.

Ulster Unionist councillor Matthew Bell was co-opted to Fermanagh and Omagh District Council two years ago, as the youngest elected member in the council.

Now aged 23, Bell is standing for election for the first time for the party in next week’s local government elections, and says he believes the DUP will be punished at the polls for their failure to return to Stormont over the Northern Ireland Protocol and the Windsor Framework.

READ MORE: ‘Total shock and numbness’ in Co Tyrone football club after death of player hours after league win

“I’m getting the message that people are sick of the Stormont impasse and sick of negative unionists,” Bell told Belfast Live.

“I have been trying to present myself as positive and confident, which I do think is what the unionist community in Omagh wants.

“When we look at unionism at the minute it is so often presented as negative, and when people see a negative they want change.

“We’re in the middle of the campaign now and I’ve knocked on hundreds of doors and the message is overwhelmingly get back to work and do your jobs.

“There is a lot of anger throughout the community within Omagh that Stormont isn’t working.

“There is still problems with the Windsor Framework, but they are issues that can be resolved with a bit of political will.

“The people of this country are suffering, their education system is faltering, their health system is faltering and their doesn’t seem to be any political leadership in sight.

“Health, education and infrastructure are devolved matters and to say that these issues are not being caused by a lack of Stormont is wrong.”

The Ulster Unionists lost one seat in last year’s NI Assembly election and saw a slight drop in their first percentage share vote.

However a disastrous campaign in West Tyrone was plagued by resignations and suspensions of party members after the catapulting in of Co Armagh farmer Ian Marshall as the party’s candidate in the area.

Marshall finished in eighth place in terms of first preference votes after a surge for TUV candidate Trevor Clarke.

However Bell says the fact the TUV is only running two candidates in seven DEAs across Fermanagh and Omagh means a lot of its losses could be reversed this time around.

“If you look at the vote internally within unionism the TUV were the big winners in West Tyrone, but they are not standing one single local council candidate within West Tyrone.

“That suggests to me that the TUV’s momentum has run out and they don’t have the individual talent locally to be in the council chamber.

“It’s a strange note that they aren’t running anyone, and it brims me with confidence that the Ulster Unionists will return our councillors.

“If you dig into the real nitty gritty of the results (at the 2022 Assembly Elections), I don’t think it was as disastrous as some people make out.

“I do think it’s quite blasé to say that it was a bad election, as a party we’ve certainly had worse.”

One issue which has caused controversy locally in recent weeks is the local council’s provision of welcome signs on the entrance into both Omagh and Enniskillen.

The signs are part of a wider ‘rebranding’ of Omagh town, but the £145,000 cost and appearance of the signs has been criticised by local residents.

READ MORE: Cost of new Enniskillen and Omagh welcome signs hits almost £150,000

Bell, who chairs the Omagh Place Shaping Plan steering group, admitted that the signs were ‘ugly’ and that a mistake had been made by the council and those that voted for them.

“The signs themselves are undoubtedly ugly and a mistake has been made there,” Bell said.

“What they fall into is a wider policy of branding Omagh as the heart of Tyrone.

One of the new gateway signs welcoming drivers to Enniskillen (Belfast Live)

“The council is trying to promote Omagh both internally within Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK and the island of Ireland.

“We call ourselves the heart of Tyrone because we are the county town and we’re very proud of being the county town.

“The long term plan for this is to encourage investment and tourism, and all that will lead to a more prosperous Omagh.

“But the signs themselves are ugly and a mistake has been made.”


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