Two more UUP councillors express interest in MLA positions

Fermanagh and South Tyrone MP Tom Elliott
Fermanagh and South Tyrone MP Tom Elliott

Two more UUP councillors have indicated that they are interested in succeeding the party’s two new MPs at Stormont.

The party, which has been buoyed by last week’s double victory in South Antrim and Fermanagh-South Tyrone, is moving quickly to replace new MPs Danny Kinahan and Tom Elliott in the Assembly to keep its pledge on not double-jobbing.

Danny Kinahan

Danny Kinahan

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.

Earlier this week the News Letter reported that in South Antrim there are believed to be two front-runners — local councillors Paul Michael and Adrian Watson. Cllr Michael confirmed that he wants to succeed Mr Kinahan.

Yesterday Cllr Watson confirmed that he is also keen to go to Stormont. He pointed out that he had been Mr Kinahan’s running mate in 2011 and that he has a strong vote in Antrim town.

In Fermanagh-South Tyrone, the front runners seem to be less obvious. 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.

Neil Somerville, a former UUP councillor for Clogher Valley who narrowly lost his seat last year, was heavily involved in Mr Elliott’s campaign and did not rule out standing for the position.

When asked if he would consider putting his name forward, Fermanagh councillor Robert Irvine said that he had “considered it in the past” and added: “Yes, I will give it due consideration, but the process as I’m led to believe is the party leader’s decision, after he has been informed by a panel who would interview prospective applicants...”

Veteran UUP Fermanagh councillor Alex Baird was less forthright in his answer. Cllr Baird, who is in Iberia on holiday, said in a message to the News Letter: “To the best of my knowledge, no discussion has taken place on succession”.