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Adrian Watson still fighting for chance to contest poll

Antrim Ulster Unionist Mayor Adrian Watson is still battling to contest the General Election, despite being deemed unacceptable by the UUP's Tory party partners.

Mr Watson's hopes of taking on the DUP's South Antrim MP William McCrea are fading, following controversy over his past remarks about gay couples.

He is expected to be officially barred very shortly from the Conservative-Ulster Unionist candidates list.

But the councillor, who is still seeking the nomination, told the Belfast Telegraph: “I am disappointed that the selection has still not been resolved. I haven't given up.

“I was democratically selected by the South Antrim Ulster Unionist Association and I feel I could put up a very strong fight against Willie McCrea.

“I have approached the party leadership and have asked for the situation to be sorted out over the next few days.”

The General Election pact between the UUP and Conservatives means candidates must be ratified by a joint inter-party committee.

Names have been finalised for 17 of the 18 Northern Ireland seats, with only South Antrim remaining.

Comments by Mr Watson in 2006, suggesting gay couples would not be welcome in his family's bed and breakfast, have helped scupper his chances of Tory approval. However, this newspaper has also been told of opposition to him within local UUP ranks.

One South Antrim Ulster Unionist source claimed: “It's been reported that some people will leave our association if Adrian Watson is not selected.

“In fact, a similar number could leave us if he is chosen.”

The South Antrim Association has long had internal tensions, linked to rival stances on the Belfast Agreement.

Mr Watson has claimed his 2006 comments on gay couples were misinterpreted. He said last month: “My reservations at that time were entirely down to the fact that my wife has strong evangelical Christian views and because my 14-year-old daughter at that particular time was helping to serve breakfasts in the guest house.

“I have no issue with the gay community. There were some logistics problems which have now been sorted out. I have no problem with gay people and have always made that clear.”

The Conservative-UUP selection process is expected to announce an alternative South Antrim candidate in the near future, with a May 6 General Election date looming.

Potential runners include Philip Robinson, a UUP special adviser to the party's Stormont Health Minister Michael McGimpsey. Mr Robinson lost out in the South Antrim UUP selection battle to Mr Watson.

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