UUP MLA Andy Allen's assistant Maggie Hutton to run against him for seat in Assembly
A veteran Ulster Unionist constituency worker from east Belfast intends to run against the party as an independent in the upcoming Assembly elections.
Maggie Hutton, who is still a personal assistant to UUP MLA Andy Allen, accused the party of having nothing to offer working-class voters and claimed she was one of many "disillusioned" with all the unionist parties.
Last night, Mr Allen said he was "disappointed" by Ms Hutton's comments and accused her of not being "fully open" in her dealings with him.
"I was born in Knocknagoney and raised in the Albertbridge Road area of east Belfast, so I don't think I need any lessons in the needs of working-class unionists," he added.
Ms Hutton, who was due to launch her campaign today, said a number of constituents had asked her to run against the UUP and DUP after anger over the pact between the parties at last year's Westminster elections.
"I deal with constituents every day in the office, and people feel let down by the UUP," she added. "Before, I would have encouraged people to vote for them, but they feel there is no party within unionism that represents them."
The 42-year-old was quoted during a 2011 debate on interface violence saying the UVF was the only group capable of protecting the Protestant community from Catholic gangs. However, she said yesterday she believed there was no place for paramilitary violence. "I was misquoted in 2011," Ms Hutton added. "I do not agree with paramilitary violence. There is no need for it.
"In relation to loyalist paramilitary groups, they are part of our community, but there needs to be a process to bring these people forward so we can leave the troubled days behind."
The former community worker, who has been employed by the UUP for 13 years, was an assistant to Sir Reg Empey and Michael Copeland before Mr Allen replaced Mr Copeland.
She claimed that the UUP was aware of her intention to run against the party but had agreed to keep her employed as an office manager.
"I am disillusioned with the UUP and so are many other people," Ms Hutton said. "The seat is there for the taking now Peter Robinson is not running. Naomi Long has quite a big support base, but in terms of working-class unionists, there is no representation. They feel totally disconnected from politics."
However, Mr Allen hit back and said: "I am committed to public service. When I could no longer serve in my first choice of career, the Royal Irish Regiment, due to being injured in Afghanistan, I found a new route.
"The Ulster Unionist Party team, right through from volunteers and activists to councillors and MLAs, has worked hard for east Belfast down through the years and will fight hard for the opportunity to continue to represent the people of east Belfast in the next Assembly mandate.
"Myself and the Ulster Unionist Party team are committed to serving and engaging with the people of East Belfast, working hard for each business, family and community, delivering solutions and not problems."