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I'd never have let Ruth Patterson take my seat, says DUP's Spratt

By Deborah McAleese

Published 19/10/2015

Jimmy Spratt
Jimmy Spratt

The DUP's Jimmy Spratt has revealed he would not have given up his Assembly seat had his colleague Ruth Patterson been in the running to replace him.

In an outspoken snub to the DUP flag protester, Mr Spratt said he only went ahead with his retirement plans when he was confident an "excellent replacement" would be chosen by the party.

The former MLA for South Belfast, who retired for health reasons last month, handed over the key Assembly seat to Emma Pengelly, a former special adviser to First Minister Peter Robinson.

Her appointment sparked discord among some factions of the party, with Mrs Patterson, an elected representative on Belfast City Council for 14 years, declaring that she planned to quit politics ahead of the next council elections.

The former deputy Belfast Lord Mayor said she was "frustrated" and "disappointed" she had not been chosen to replace Mr Spratt.

Mrs Patterson also claimed that she or her council colleague Christopher Stalford should have been considered for the post instead.

However, in an interview with the Belfast Telegraph, Mr Spratt said that had either of the pair been in line to take over from him he would not have retired.

"I don't accept that either of them would have been a better replacement than Emma Pengelly and certainly if any of the two of them had been going to be appointed I would still be the MLA for South Belfast and would have continued up until the end of the mandate," Mr Spratt said.

He added: "I wanted someone, and I think the party officers and the party leader picked someone, who I consider to be an excellent replacement."

Earlier this month Mrs Patterson, who had applied for the South Belfast MLA seat, said she felt she had lost everything after not being selected.

She also said Mrs Pengelly's appointment had come "like a bolt out of the blue".

"I thought I would climb to the next step on the ladder but it wasn't meant to be," Mrs Patterson added.

"This is not sour grapes by any means. It is just the sheer frustration of all the years of hard work, but for what? You want to achieve something,"

Mr Spratt, a former RUC officer, also said he never had any difficulty working with Sinn Fein, unlike DUP MLA Edwin Poots who recently said he had to "hold his nose" while working with the republican party.

"They are certainly not remarks that I would have made," said Mr Spratt.

He added: "From a previous life (as a police officer with the RUC) I knew what many of the Sinn Fein people had been involved in but being a democrat and the fact they were elected to the Assembly there was a job to be done."

Mr Spratt retired last month following a lengthy and very public battle with bowel cancer. The 65-year-old had been a DUP MLA for South Belfast for almost eight years.

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