DUP struggling to select a new Lord Mayor for Belfast
The DUP group on Belfast City Council is in disarray, as it has been unable to select a member to become the new Lord Mayor.
The next Lord Mayor and their deputy are due to be nominated at the council's annual general meeting in just nine days' time.
It will be the first time in four years that the DUP has secured the mayoralty, however, its councillors have failed to agree on a nominee.
The party's leader in City Hall, Brian Kingston, and 24-year-old Guy Spence - who is currently Deputy Mayor - both put their names forward, but it is understood that neither secured enough support during an internal vote last week.
The matter has now been referred to DUP headquarters for Arlene Foster and party officers to resolve. Young barrister John Hussey, who was elected to the council five years ago, is emerging as a possible favourite for the position. Sources said that the party councillors' inability to choose a nominee so close to the AGM was deeply embarrassing. "This matter needs sorting out urgently, because we are running out of time," one source said.
Christopher Stalford was due to be the DUP candidate until he was elected as an MLA for South Belfast earlier this month. Under Assembly rules against double-jobbing, he had to resign from the council.
North Belfast councillors, Mr Kingston and Mr Spence, both put their names forward. The council group then voted by secret ballot last week, but sources said neither man polled strongly enough to be proposed.
DUP councillor Frank McCoubrey, who narrowly lost out on being elected an MLA in West Belfast earlier this month, was approached to run. City Hall insiders said that while Mr McCoubrey - a single father - was honoured to be asked, family commitments ruled him out.
Mr Hussey, who represents the Ormiston ward, is seen as a safe pair of hands by party headquarters. Sinn Fein's Mary Ellen Campbell is due to become Deputy Mayor.
She will be the first openly gay person to fill the post.
"Inclusion will be one of the themes of my term in office," she said. "It's vital to promote positive messages and demonstrate public commitment to equality.
"I'm a woman, I'm openly gay, I'm a republican ex-prisoner and I'm from a working-class community in north Belfast."
The d'Hondt system is used to allocate senior positions in the council, reflecting the strength of each party in City Hall.
Alliance will nominate the Lord Mayor next year, with an Ulster Unionist due to become Deputy Lord Mayor. In 2018, the positions will fall to Sinn Fein and Alliance respectively.
Meanwhile, People Before Profit has co-opted Matt Collins, a 27-year-old University of Ulster PhD student from Andersonstown, to fill the West Belfast seat vacated by Gerry Carroll following his election to Stormont.
The SDLP has co-opted one of the organisers of the Ardoyne Fleadh to fill the North Belfast council seat vacated by Nichola Mallon. Paul McCusker (30), who also works with homeless charities, is a well-known local community activist.
The DUP has not yet selected a candidate to fill Christopher Stalford's seat.
Alliance is due to meet this week to choose a replacement for Paula Bradshaw, who was elected as a South Belfast MLA.