Lockhart to contest seat left vacant by Simpson

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Carla Lockhart has been selected as the DUP candidate who will defend the seat that David Simpson won from David Trimble 14 years ago.

Last night the party confirmed Mrs Lockhart’s candidature just two days after Mr Simpson abruptly announced that he would not be contesting the election.

There had been rumours that DUP MEP Diane Dodds, who lives in the constituency in Banbridge, could be the candidate.

However, she does not appear to have applied to be the candidate and the two individuals discussed at a party meeting on Thursday night were Mrs Lockhart and fellow Upper Bann MLA Jonathan Buckley.

DUP rules state that constituency associations must have 40 paid-up members in order to select a candidate and, despite the fact that Upper Bann has been one of the DUP’s strongest areas in Northern Ireland for many years, the local association did not have enough members to enable it to choose its own candidate, handing control to the party officers.

Mr Simpson’s announcement that he will not be standing again for election precipitated a last-minute search for a candidate in a constituency where the DUP has a majority of almost 8,000 votes, meaning that whoever was chosen would be the overwhelming favourite to be returned as an MP.

Mrs Lockhart topped the poll when she was first elected as an MLA in 2016 and then increased her vote to again top the poll the following year, despite that being a disastrous election campaign for the DUP in which it lost 10 Assembly seats after the RHI scandal.

In a statement last night, Mrs Lockhart said: “It has been an honour to represent Upper Bann both as a councillor and an MLA.

“I look forward to asking the people of this constituency for their support to return me as their Member of Parliament.

“My record in the constituency is one of hard work and delivery. I will be seeking a mandate to continue this in Westminster where I will work alongside colleagues in Parliament, the Assembly and council to deliver for the benefit of everyone in Upper Bann.”

DUP leader Arlene Foster said: “I am delighted that Carla will be the DUP candidate in Upper Bann at this election.

“Just as the DUP has a record of delivery across Northern Ireland, Carla has a proven record of hard work and delivery for the people of Upper Bann.”

The UUP has not announced its candidate but is expected to again field local MLA Doug Beattie.

Sinn Féin has already selected John O’Dowd, the former Stormont minister who is now challenging Michelle O’Neill to be the party’s vice president.