McGimpsey retires amid UUP tensions

Michael McGimpsey, who is to stand down as an Ulster Unionist MLA

Michael McGimpsey, who is to stand down as an Ulster Unionist MLA

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Ulster Unionist Party veteran Michael McGimpsey last night denied that tension in the South Belfast association was linked to his announcement yesterday that he is to retire from Stormont.

Ulster Unionist Party veteran Michael McGimpsey last night denied that tension in the South Belfast association was linked to his announcement yesterday that he is to retire from Stormont.

Mr McGimpsey had surprised many political observers when he announced that he will not stand again for the Assembly, despite having put his name forward for selection as the UUP’s South Belfast candidate just four months ago.

The News Letter understands that there was a complaint about the way in which the September selection process was conducted and a threat of legal action.

Since then, the party has been carrying out an internal inquiry into the issue.

At that meeting, it is understood that Mr McGimpsey put his name forward for selection and he was chosen by the local association, alongside Richard Kennedy, with Graham Craig in final place.

The final decision was to have been taken by the party officers.

There is no suggestion that Mr McGimpsey acted improperly during the selection process.

Mr McGimpsey said that he had put his name forward because the “selection came so early” but that he had still been “in two minds about it”.

The 67-year-old said that local members had been urging him to put his name forward again for selection.

“I’m not withdrawing from politics, but my future will not be in elected politics,” he said.

Mr McGimpsey, who has been a member of the UUP since he was 15, said that he was confident that the UUP would hold the seat.

He said that he had “no detail at all” about the complaint over the selection process which led to him emerging far ahead of rivals in South Belfast last September.

He said that it had been a “proper meeting” and that local councillor Graham Craig had “trailed in” in final place.

Mr McGimpsey said that Mr Craig had sought the party’s nomination for Westminster and the Assembly and got “hammered” each time. Pointing out that Mr Craig only rejoined the party in 2014, he said: “It’s amazing the ambition of some people.”

Councillor Craig said that he was “very surprised and saddened” at Mr McGimpsey’s decision. Mr Craig, who is in the United States, told the News Letter: “The real shock is the effort which Michael put in at the selection meeting, which runs contrary to the view that he had long been planning to stand down.”

First contenders emerge in battle to be candidate

There are likely to be at least three UUP members in the running to replace Michael McGimpsey as the South Belfast candidate.

Rodney McCune, who was the candidate in last year’s Westminster election, is likely to be the front runner for the nomination even though he did not poll particularly strongly last year.

The barrister and former UUP special adviser said last night: “It is my intention to seek the nomination.”

Councillor Jeff Dudgeon, who is chairman of the South Belfast UUP association, is also open to standing. When asked if he was interested, he said: “It is an option I will have to consider. We are without a candidate and are going to have a tricky job holding the seat so we probably need somebody with a bit of profile.”

Councillor Graham Craig did not rule out putting his name forward for selection but said that he would be “reluctant” to go to Stormont due to his “successful career at the Northern Ireland Authority For Utility Regulation” where he is employed as an economist. He added that his four years working for DUP minister Sammy Wilson as a special adviser at Stormont had been “a very frustrating experience”.