PORTADOWN undertaker Nigel Lutton has insisted his decision to contest the Mid-Ulster by-election as a unionist unity candidate is not motivated by a desire to confront Sinn Fein’s Francis Molloy.
Mr Lutton, from Annaghmore, was unveiled last week as a unity candidate for the March 7 by-election in Mid-Ulster, where Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness has resigned his seat.
However, elements of the media have already been portraying the election as a battle between Mr Lutton and Mr Molloy, who was named by Upper Bann MP David Simpson using parliamentary privilege in 2007 as having involvement in the murder of Mr Lutton’s father Eric in 1979. Mr Molloy has always vigorously denied the claims.
Mr Lutton, a victims’ campaigner, insisted the prospect of facing the Sinn Fein man at the ballot box was not an influence on his decision to accept overtures from the two main unionist parties.
“To be quite honest it would not matter who it was, I would have accepted,” he stressed.
“He is not in my thoughts at all. It’s not about him, it’s not about personal issues, it’s about cooperation and being a single unionist candidate. I was asked to do this because I’m someone who has worked extensively in victims’ issues, and I’m supported by both parties.
“There will be some emotional impact, but I won’t dwell on it. There are mechanisms for dealing with the past with the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) and to dwell on your past and seek revenge destroys the victim. You should focus on the future. This is not about me or the past.”
Mr Lutton’s background in victims’ groups traces back to his father’s murder. Eric Lutton, who had resigned from the RUC police reserve just two weeks before his death, was closing the front gates of the Argory National Trust property near Dungannon when two Provisional IRA gunmen opened fire using Belgian FN assault rifles.
“The pain remains, as it does for the thousands of victims,” Mr Lutton continued. “What happened led me into working with victims. I started off myself helping individual victims in the mid-Ulster ‘murder triangle’ area. It grew from that to working for the cross-community group Wave Trauma Centres.
“I work in the funeral trade and I have counselling skills there. Being a victim myself is what drew me into helping in that field. I’m also not aligned to either party – I’ve too many friends in both parties.”
Mr Lutton was unanimously endorsed by both the Ulster Unionist and DUP associations in Mid-Ulster, and even unionist sceptics like TUV leader Jim Allister and Willie Frazer have supported him.
However, the announcement immediately prompted the resignations of high profile Ulster Unionists John McCallister and Lagan Valley’s Basil McCrea.
While stressing his regret that Mr McCallister and Mr McCrea had resigned, he believes there is no future in yet another unionist party.
He said, “It’s heartbreaking to see John McCallister and Basil go but from listening to the people on the ground, who want unionist cooperation, it’s hard to think that me standing as a unionist candidate will do anything but strengthen the Union.
“It’s about building for the future and this is an example of what unionism can do. I wish both of them all the best but I honestly don’t think a new unionist party will come to anything.
“In my opinion everyone and every constituency wants unionist cooperation. How can anyone stand in the way of this? It’s been unanimous. Both constituency associations supported myself as a candidate.”
Several years ago Nigel suffered a pulmonary embolism, a blood clot in the lung that could have killed him.
He said, “There was no pre-empt. It was just bang. I was standing in the kitchen and I got massive chest and arm pain. A man being a man, I refused to go to hospital. But at 4am I didn’t refuse to go because I thought I was having a heart attack. I was unconcerned, everyone around me was panicking, but I was resuscitated. I was in hospital for a fortnight and off work for three months.
“It’s something that will be with me the rest of my life. As long as I take it in my stride I will be OK. I take medication every day and it gets me out of the hoovering.”
He faces an uphill task to get elected. Just 30 per cent of the Mid Ulster electorate is unionist and it would take a seismic upset for Sinn Fein to lose the seat.
If Eric Lutton could see his son now, at the forefront of Northern Ireland politics, with almost the entire unionist family uniting behind him, what would he think?
Nigel added, “I think he would be glad to see that his son was liked generally across the spectrum. Hopefully he would be proud of me.”