First UUP members keen to replace two new MPs emerge

Tom Elliott on his first day at Westminster. Picture: Stephen Walker/BBC
Tom Elliott on his first day at Westminster. Picture: Stephen Walker/BBC

The Ulster Unionist Party is planning to replace new MPs Tom Elliott and Danny Kinahan in Stormont by the end of next month, the party has said.

The UUP, which has been buoyed by last week’s double victory, said that it would be moving swiftly to keep its pledge on not double-jobbing.

Danny Kinahan pictured beside the statue of Sir Winston Churchill at the entrance to the House of Commons chamber

Danny Kinahan pictured beside the statue of Sir Winston Churchill at the entrance to the House of Commons chamber

Potential candidates in both South Antrim and Fermanagh and South Tyrone will have limited time to jockey for position.

The selection process will be similar to that used for the selection of Ulster Unionist election candidates, in which the local association holds a selection meeting but the ultimate decision is down to the party officers.

An Ulster Unionist spokesman said that ending double-jobbing was a key party policy and that, unlike some other parties, its MPs would be leaving the Assembly at the earliest possible opportunity.

When asked about the process for replacing the two men, he said: “We are hoping to have it done by end of June. We’re certainly not going to be hanging about.” He added that both Mr Elliott and Mr Kinahan would fulfil their pledge to leave Stormont “as soon as is practically possible”.

In South Antim, the UUP leader on the local council, Mark Cosgrove (who is also the UUP’s treasurer), confirmed that he is not interested in the role.

A source said that Antrim councillors Adrian Cochrane Watson and Paul Michael are the frontrunners for the MLA position. Mr Cochrane Watson could not be contacted for comment.

But Mr Michael, who would be seen as closer to Mr Kinahan, confirmed his interest. When asked by the News Letter if he would be interested in replacing Mr Kinahan as MLA, Cllr Michael said: “Very much so.”

He highlighted that the new MP had been a vocal opponent of double-jobbing and had given a pre-election pledge to give up his Assembly seat as soon as possible, something he said Mr Kinahan would soon be doing.

In Fermanagh and South Tyrone, the frontrunners appear less obvious at this stage.

In the 2011 Assembly election, Kenny Donaldson was the second UUP candidate.

Although he remains a member of the party, he has been out of frontline politics in recent years and has become a prominent spokesman for victims of terrorism.

When contacted by the News Letter, Mr Donaldson did not directly say whether he would be interested in replacing Mr Elliott at Stormont.

But he did say: “Tom is an established and deeply respected Assembly member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone.

“It is early days in the process to find a successor but whoever that turns out to be will need to be fully committed. The person who is co-opted has big shoes to fill.”

Neil Somerville, a former UUP councillor for Clogher Valley who narrowly lost his seat last year, was heavily involved in Mr Elliott’s campaign.

When asked if he would be interested in being an MLA, he said: “I wouldn’t be saying no, but I have heard nothing about it.”

Other names mentioned as possible contenders were Cllr Robert Irvine and Cllr Alex Baird, neither of whom could be contacted.

But one prominent local councillor did appear to rule himself out.

Raymond Farrell said: “I have been approached by people in the constituency to consider it. At this point in time I wouldn’t be considering it as an option.

“I’m quite content in terms of working in the local council and with my employment in mental health at this point in time.”