No agreement over joint Unionist candidate

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Unionists have been unable to agree a unity candidate to run in the Mid Ulster by election.

Yesterday it was announced that the by election to replace deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness in the Tyrone constituency will take place on Thursday March 7.

Government Chief Whip Sir George Young initiated the election process by moving a writ for the Mid Ulster seat in the Commons.

Mr McGuinness announced last year that he planned to resign as an MP and formally left his seat on January 2.

He said the move is in line with Sinn Fein’s pledge to end its representatives holding dual mandates.

Only two of Northern Ireland’s 18 MPs are also members of the Northern Ireland Assembly, they are DUP MPs Gregory Campbell and Sammy Wilson.

Last night Unionists had still been unable to agreed a joint candidate to context the by election.

A DUP spokesman said that it has had discussions internally and with others about a standing a united Unionist candidate.

“We would be supportive if an agreed candidate can be found. Those discussions are continuing but it is the DUP’s firm belief that unionism is stronger together,” he said.

The TUV has also called for a united Unionist candidate.

“With both the DUP and UUP aligned to Sinn Fein in government it is unlikely that such a unifying candidate could emerge from their ranks,” he said.

“I am, therefore, calling on both to join TUV in declaring a willingness to secure a unity candidate.

“The recent assault on our Britishness, epitomised by the tearing down of the Union flag from Belfast City Hall, touched a raw but unifying nerve within Unionism.

“Now, is an opportunity to take that forward in a practical fashion in Mid Ulster, directing the energies of all into maximising the pro-Union vote in this cockpit constituency.”

Last night the UUP declined to comment on the matter.

Previously an Ulster Unionist spokesman told the News Letter that it would stand down if the DUP did so also, so long as any agreed community candidate had “Ulster Unionist values”.

The Ulster Protestant Forum has also stated its intention to run a candidate. This is likely to be either William Frazer or Jamies Bryson.

In 2010 Mid Ulster proved overwhelmingly nationalist with 27,065 voting for republican or nationalist parties, compared with 13,380 voting for Unionist candidates.

Mr McGuinness won with 21,239 votes (52%), his closest rival was the DUP’s Ian McCrea who attracted 5,876 votes (14.4%), followed by Tony Quinn of the SDLP with 5,826 votes (14.3%), then Sandra Overend who ran under the Ulster Conservative and Unionist banner with 4,509 votes (11%). Meanwhile TUV candidate Walter Millar attracted 2,995 votes (7.3%) and Ian Butler of Alliance got 397 votes (1%). Turn out was 63%.