The election agent for a winning DUP MLA candidate has denied that an internal party conflict is under way in his area.
Failed Assembly candidate Ian McCrea complained of having fallen prey to “a campaign of misinformation” at the hands of his own colleagues.
Mr McCrea narrowly lost out on reclaiming his seat in Mid Ulster on Friday – a defeat which followed his father William’s ousting as South Antrim MP last year.
News Letter sister paper The Mid Ulster Mail quoted him yesterday as indicating that members of his party colleague’s campaign team had been telling voters that the DUP leadership favoured his running mate, newcomer Keith Buchanan.
He said: “Those on the doors that told the people of Mid Ulster that Keith was Arlene Foster’s choice and not me were deliberately speaking untruths.”
The election resulted in three Sinn Fein, one SDLP, one UUP and one DUP MLA in the constituency.
During the initial stages of the vote counting, it had looked like Mr McCrea would once more secure a seat in the constituency.
But thanks to a number of transfer votes, Mr Buchanan eventually edged ahead to clinch the seat by 4,567 votes to 4,406.
Mr Buchanan’s election agent was Paul McLean, DUP group leader on Mid Ulster District Council.
When Mr McCrea’s remarks were put to him he was initially reluctant to comment, but said it was “not the way it was done”.
He said the DUP had distributed literature carrying the names of both men.
The McCrea team carried leaflets which listed his name first, while the Buchanan team did the same with their leaflets.
“That was the only difference,” said Mr McLean.
He stressed that he was “not going to get involved in a tit-for-tat” about the issue.
He added: “I’m sure that as a sitting MLA losing his seat there, that there is a hurt and there’s disappointment and therefore there will be things that might be said that, in the round of the thing, might not be said. I’m not going to get into that.”
It was put to him that it would look to some like a civil war of sorts was in the offing in the Mid Ulster party, to which he said: “It’s not a civil war. It’s definitely not. There’s an opportunity for choice – and people have the right to choose.”
In the Mid Ulster Mail, Mr McCrea said: “Those who have suggested that the McCrea era in politics has come to an end will be sadly disappointed and in for quite a surprise.
“Effective representation is much more than a photo shoot but hard graft, working on bread and butter issues that impact upon people’s lives.
“Having set the record straight, I wish Keith all the best for his term in office.”
Mr McCrea could not be reached by the News Letter last night.