Prominent Presbyterian minister steps aside in bid to be MLA

Rev Lesley Carroll Minister of Fortwilliam Presbyterian Church. Picture: Diane Magill
Rev Lesley Carroll Minister of Fortwilliam Presbyterian Church. Picture: Diane Magill

A well known Presbyterian minister is to stand aside from her church ministry in order to stand as an Ulster Unionist Assembly candidate, it has emerged.

The Rev Lesley Carroll, the minister of Fortwilliam and Macrory Presbyterian Church in North Belfast, will be the UUP candidate in the constituency, UUP leader Mike Nesbitt this morning announced.

The Rev Carroll is a frequent contributor to BBC news programmes and was a member of the Eames-Bradley group which in 2009 sparked controversy when it suggested paying £12,000 to all the families of victims of violence, including terrorists.

Mr Nesbitt praised the Rev Carroll as someone who possessed “a rare combination of compassion, intelligence, and knowledge based on research and experience”.

A spokesman for the Presbyterian Church in Ireland said: “In discussions with the Clerk of the General Assembly, the office bearers of the Presbytery of North Belfast and Rev Dr Lesley Carroll prior to today’s announcement, it was agreed by all concerned that in line with previous practice, it would be appropriate for Dr Carroll to step back from ministerial duties from the announcement of her candidature until after the election to the Northern Ireland Assembly on 5 May.

“The Presbytery of North Belfast has appointed former Presbyterian Moderator, the Very Rev Dr John Dunlop CBE, to undertake all ministerial duties in Fortwilliam and Macrory Presbyterian Church in the meantime.”

In a statement, the Rev Carroll said: “I’m looking forward to the next couple of months. It’s a new challenge, but I’ll use all my past experience of working on the ground to get out and about and speak to as many people as possible before 5 May.

“I have a real passion for North Belfast and its people. I want to make a difference, and after conversations with Mike Nesbitt and much thought, that’s why I’ll be standing as an Ulster Unionist Party candidate in North Belfast in the forthcoming Assembly elections.

“I’ve lived and worked here for over 30 years. It`s my home and I care about all its people. There is so much good going on, but sometimes that story isn’t told.

“I have a vision for a community in which people collaborate to achieve the best possible North Belfast for all its communities. I have worked alongside people in some of the most difficult circumstances of their lives and from these experiences I’ve developed a compassionate understanding of people’s needs.

“I am committed to social justice in education, community development, health and wellbeing, capacity building and addressing the needs of real people and their too often challenging circumstances.”

The Rev Carroll added: “If North Belfast is to become as multi-cultural, lively, diverse and welcoming as we want it to be then provision needs to be made for the needs of everyone and for accessible services.

“All communities need to bring their hopes and concerns to the urban redevelopment agenda. I will work to give everyone a voice and to deliver the kind of urban redevelopment that will change the face of North Belfast making it a bright, engaging place to live, work, bring up children and invest in.

“I am optimistic about the future and if we work together, with the support of government, we can achieve together. On that basis, I’ll be asking people to vote for me on 5 May.”

Mr Nesbitt said of his latest recruit: “Like me, she is a relative late-comer to seeking elected office and that is no bad thing, given the mix of life experiences among the current MLAs.

“I think Lesley is the perfect choice for the people of North Belfast, an area that suffered like no other during the Troubles, and continues to endure the legacy in terms of poor mental health and wellbeing, insufficient social housing and limited opportunities in employment and education.

“The church’s loss will be politics’ gain. If endorsed by the people, she will bring fresh ideas, energy and an inquisitive mind to Stormont, and will challenge us all to stretch ourselves further to deliver a society that offers social justice for all.

“I commend Lesley to the electorate of North Belfast as a potential champion who has been and will remain grounded in public service for the people.”