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Stress forces UUP MLA to take time off after only few months in Assembly

By Liam Clarke

Published 25/11/2015

Fermanagh and South Tyrone UUP MLA Neil Somerville who has stepped aside from his post
Fermanagh and South Tyrone UUP MLA Neil Somerville who has stepped aside from his post

One of the Assembly's newest MLAs has stepped aside due to stress after less than seven months at Stormont.

Last night the UUP issued a terse two sentence statement and refused to elaborate.

"Neil Somerville is off work with stress and wellbeing issues," it said.

"The party both locally and at leadership level is fully committed to doing what it can to support Neil at this time and would ask that everyone respect his privacy."

No date was set for his return but if he has not recovered by early in the new year it is likely that the party will have to co-opt a replacement to allow them time to build a profile before the May election.

If that happens, victims' campaigner Kenny Donaldson or Erne West councillor Rosemary Barton could be in contention.

They were the two initially chosen to go before the UUP executive for final selection in June.

The co-option came after Tom Elliott was elected to Westminster in May and needed an Assembly replacement.

But the UUP admitted votes had been miscounted and Mr Somerville was also allowed through to the final stage and was selected.

Mr Somerville (42) is a native of Aughnacloy but lives in Clogher and is an MLA in Fermanagh and South Tyrone.

He is married with four children

He and Mr Elliott are close friends, and last night the Fermanagh and South Tyrone MP said: "Neil needed a break and he is getting the support he needs."

At the time of the co-option there was some disquiet in UUP ranks locally because it was felt he was 'parachuted' in from outside.

Some veterans pointed out that he had only been in the party for four years and that last year he narrowly missed out on a seat on the new Mid-Ulster District Council.

He polled 1,022 first preference votes, slightly more than fellow UUP candidate Robert Mulligan who beat him on transfers.

He was on Fermanagh and South Tyrone Borough Council until it was replaced.

Party managers felt that, coming from the South Tyrone end of the constituency, he was well placed to take on Lord Morrow of the DUP next May.

Mr Somerville was active in the tourism sector until he took time off. He has been on the board of Taste Of Tyrone, a private sector organisation which promotes the local hospitality industry, for nine years and chair of it for the past two. He is also director of a company called Music Services for Fifes and Drums which is based in Ballymena.

When he was appointed, UUP leader Mike Nesbitt congratulated him. He described it as "a moment of history for the Ulster Unionist Party".

He pointed out that it was "the first time since we secured devolution in 1998 that we have had to replace MLAs because they have gone on to become Members of Parliament. I can think of no better sign that the party is in growth mode."

Mr Nesbitt said Mr Somerville would bring "energy, passion and commitment" to his new role.

Mr Somerville said that it would "be a privilege and an honour to serve the people of Fermanagh & South Tyrone in the Northern Ireland Assembly as part of the largest unionist party in the constituency".

It is understood that Mr Somerville went to Mr Nesbitt a few days ago and said he needed to take a break for health reasons.

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