DUP councillor David Hilditch gives seat to defector Fred Cobain

David Hilditch
David Hilditch

A DUP Assemblyman has reluctantly given up his council seat to a former Ulster Unionist less than a year after saying that he would not do so.

East Antrim Assemblyman David Hilditch has resigned from Carrickfergus Borough Council and will be replaced by former Ulster Unionist chief whip Fred Cobain.

Mr Cobain defected to the DUP almost a year ago and at the time there were rumours that he would take over from the veteran Carrick councillor.

But, when asked about the suggestion in January, Mr Hilditch told the News Letter: “I know nothing about it.”

When asked if it had been discussed with him, Mr Hilditch laughed and said: “Not with me anyway, which is the worrying bit.”

In an email to the council staff and councillors yesterday seen by the News Letter, Mr Hilditch said: “It is with deep regret and a degree of sadness, that I am informing you of my resignation as a councillor for the historic Borough of Carrickfergus.”

Mr Hilditch, who has been a councillor for 23 years, said that his resignation was “enforced” by changes to local government.

Although in the email he did not spell out what those changes are, he was referring to a ban on ‘double-jobbing’ by having a seat on a council and sitting at Stormont or Westminster.

Last night Mr Hilditch said that his hand was forced by rules which meant that if he did not give up his seat the DUP would have been unable to co-opt a replacement before next May’s election.

“The DUP took a step a few weeks ago to bring the rest of those MLAs who are councillors out of councils,” he said.

Mr Hilditch said that he did consider giving up his Stormont seat and staying on the council but decided not to because “it’s not really going to be Carrick Council under Review of Public Administration – they are going to be mini-Stormonts really”.

Mr Hilditch added that he hoped that in the future younger people would take over from the older faces on the council.

The DUP and Sinn Fein have been making numerous changes to their council teams over recent months.

Veteran councillors who resign are entitled to payments which vary according to their length of service but can be as large as £35,000.

And co-opting replacements to serve for several months before May’s elections allows parties to get their candidates known as sitting councillors rather than as outsider hopefuls.