With nine days to the close of nominations for the General Election, the DUP has confirmed that MLA Paul Girvan will attempt to unseat the one Ulster Unionist MP elected without the help of a unionist pact two years ago.
Yesterday the DUP announced 11 candidates, including the party’s eight sitting MPs, but made no mention of South Belfast or five other constituencies in which it may put up candidates.
After March’s disastrous election for unionism, there has been grassroots unionist pressure on the two major pro-Union parties to strike a pan-unionist pact in an effort to counter the surge in support for Sinn Fein.
However, although the UUP has –it says entirely of its own volition – decided to stand aside in North Belfast and West Belfast, there have been no public indications that talks between DUP leader Arlene Foster and new UUP leader Robin Swann have led to compromises in key seats such as South Belfast and East Belfast.
A UUP spokesman said: “We’re in the process of selecting candidates for this election. We’ve named some, others will be named very soon.”
Yesterday the DUP revealed that South Antrim MLA Paul Girvan will stand in South Antrim – its most winnable seat.
DUP veteran William McCrea lost the seat in the strongly unionist constituency to the UUP’s Danny Kinahan in 2015, but the margin was just 949 votes.
This time the DUP has selected the former Ballyclare councillor, meaning that both main unionist candidates are from the constituency, removing one plank of Mr Kinahan’s last campaign when he highlighted that the Rev McCrea resided in Mid Ulster.
Elsewhere, the DUP has confirmed that its eight MPs will stand again – Nigel Dodds (North Belfast), Gavin Robinson (East Belfast), Sammy Wilson (East Antrim), Ian Paisley (North Antrim), Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry), Jeffrey Donaldson (Lagan Valley), David Simpson (Upper Bann) and Jim Shannon (Strangford).
The party also announced that Frank McCoubrey will stand in West Belfast and Gary Middleton in Foyle – two seats which are overwhelmingly nationalist.
The DUP has already confirmed that it will not stand against the sitting UUP MP Tom Elliott in Fermanagh-South Tyrone but said that “further candidates will be ratified in the coming days”.
Mrs Foster said: “This election will be an opportunity for people across Northern Ireland to elect DUP candidates who will work for Northern Ireland.
“Voters will be able to show their support for the Union and elect our candidates who will stand up for Northern Ireland’s interests in Westminster.
“DUP members have a track record of working and speaking up for Northern Ireland. As a party we will be working to get the best deal for Northern Ireland as the United Kingdom leaves the EU.”
As well as South Belfast, the DUP has yet to announce candidates for North Down, South Down, Newry and Armagh, West Tyrone and Mid Ulster.
South Belfast still unclear
Against a backdrop of rumours that there are still inter-unionist party contacts about South Belfast, the UUP party officers met to discuss candidate selections on Friday afternoon, but nothing public has emerged from that meeting.
There have been suggestions that former Newry and Armagh MLA Danny Kennedy could stand for the UUP in South Belfast, while it is understood that local councillor Jeffrey Dudgeon has put his name forward to stand.
Mr Kennedy declined to comment on whether he is interested in standing, but the idea of his candidature was supported by the last South Belfast UUP candidate in a general election, Rodney McCune – who also served as Mr Kennedy’s Stormont Spad for several years before moving to Singapore.