Belfast Telegraph

DUP parachutes Weir in as runner in Jonathan Bell's Strangford constituency

By Noel McAdam

The DUP has announced who will replace suspended former minister Jonathan Bell on the ballot for the March 2 Assembly election.

Education Minister Peter Weir will shift from his current seat in North Down to neighbouring Strangford, where Mr Bell may also run as an independent.

The former Enterprise Minister was suspended after an explosive television interview before Christmas with Stephen Nolan on the botched Stormont Renewable Heat Incentive scheme.

Mr Weir's seat in North Down was viewed as being under threat, as all 18 constituencies go from six seats to five in this election.

Yesterday he joked about his future job prospects as he was questioned by the Assembly's education committee during the last sitting before Stormont's official collapse.

Chairman Chris Lyttle of Alliance asked about protective notices the Education Authority had put on youth services, primarily in Belfast.

"Youth workers' jobs are safer than mine," Mr Weir said.

His party chairman Lord Morrow said that as Education Minister Mr Weir had "very willingly pointed out what he and his department have been doing around protecting services as a result of an absence of a budget".

He also noted the challenges facing schools in relation to teachers' pay, special educational needs, outdoor education centres, school transport and youth workers.

Mr Bell, who is expected to be expelled from the party, has yet to confirm whether he will run as an independent, but earlier this week said it had fallen to him to reveal details of the RHI scandal.

"We are in a mess, and somebody has to shine a light on that mess," he said.

"It fell to me, and I do not know why.

"I did not seek it, nor did I want it. I did not want to do it. Twenty years of loyalty to a party should show that I am a fairly loyal person."

Meanwhile, a Portadown councillor has been selected as a DUP candidate for the Assembly election.

That follows the decision of Sydney Anderson to stand down in Upper Bann.

Jonathan Buckley said he had been "humbled" by his selection. After it was announced the party's East Belfast MLA Sammy Douglas was standing down, it was confirmed Assembly Speaker Robin Newton will run again in the constituency.

Mr Newton faced criticism in recent weeks for allowing former First Minister Arlene Foster to make a speech without ex-Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness's permission, and also over his links to the controversial Charter NI group.

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