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Billy Dickson’s new party South Belfast Unionists joins the fray

By Rebecca Black

Published 13/04/2016

Emma Little Pengelly
Emma Little Pengelly

A founder member of the DUP is running in South Belfast against his old party, claiming the constituency needed a "local person" to stand up for it.

Former Deputy Lord Mayor Billy Dickson has set up a new political party, the South Belfast Unionists.

He is running against two DUP candidates - Emma Little Pengelly and Christopher Stalford - as well as their former party colleague Ruth Patterson.

Mr Dickson (69) also faces competition for unionist votes from UUP candidate Rodney McCune, Ukip's Bob Stoker, the PUP's Ian Shanks and Conservative candidate Ben Manton. At the last Assembly election in 2011 just two unionists were returned in the constituency - Jimmy Spratt (DUP) and Michael McGimpsey (UUP).

Mr Dickson said his party was established out of a sense of frustration.

"It was formed as a result of a number of years of not being able to deliver for the community on a number of issues, and it was felt the time had come. We need a party that just focuses on South Belfast," he claimed.

"With all the community work I have been involved with, I just felt that, really, you need someone in the Assembly who is local and can get across the views and hopefully deliver." He said his concerns included education. He pointed out there were no controlled secondary schools within inner city South Belfast.

He also flagged up problems with the road network, citing Boucher Road and the Westlink; the number of apartment blocks being built; the lack of affordable housing, and the number of private landlords.

The veteran - who survived a murder attempt by the INLA in 1982 - admitted membership of his party was low, but said he had high hopes for it and there were plans to field candidates in the next Belfast council election.

"We are confident; we are not out to attack other people, we just feel that our strength is in being local," he said.

"I have been involved with community work for a long time and with a number of organisations.

"There is very little about the South Belfast area that I don't know.

"People know me, they know the community associations I am involved with."

Mr Dickson claimed that, through his community work, he was well aware of those politicians who were committed to the constituency and those who were not.

However, he denied there was any animosity between him and other unionists, saying another candidate had recently helped him to carry his election posters into a hall.

Mr Dickson was involved with Ian Paisley's Protestant Unionist Party in the 1970s before becoming a founder member of the DUP.

He served on Belfast City Council for the DUP and narrowly missed being elected to the Assembly in 1982 - he had been unable to canvass after being shot at his home by members of the INLA just six weeks before the election.

Mr Dickson left the DUP in 1986 and later joined the Conservative Party.

In 2014 he stood for election for Belfast City Council for Jim Allister's Traditional Unionist Voice.

Despite looking forward to his 70th birthday next January, Mr Dickson said he felt "fitter, stronger and more determined than ever".

In total there are 18 candidates running in South Belfast, half of them unionists.

In 2011, as well as the two unionists returned, three nationalists were elected - Alex Maskey (Sinn Fein), Alasdair McDonnell (SDLP) and Conall McDevitt (SDLP) - and the Alliance Party's Anna Lo.

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