Ulster Unionists in Craigavon are set to force a by-election to replace Traditional Unionist Voice’s Mark Russell, who is resigning his council seat.
Senior UUP member Arnold Hatch said he was seriously considering objecting to a co-option, which would throw a spanner in the works after the reciprocal deal between the DUP and Jim Allister’s TUV over Craigavon and Ballymoney borough councils.
The DUP’s Robert Halliday was co-opted to Ballymoney Borough Council on Monday night to replace party member Roy Wilson as part of an agreement with TUV in Craigavon. The TUV wants to replace Mr Russell without a by-election, but it needs the co-operation of all councillors, as an objection by just one member would scupper a co-option, and Mr Hatch insisted he was prepared to do just that.
“It’s pure arrogance for TUV and DUP to make a cosy agreement among themselves,” he said. “And DUP are being hypocritical when you look at the facts.
“In Dromore last year when Tyrone Howe (UUP) stepped down it was they who objected to a co-option, thinking they would win the seat. But they got egg on their faces when Carol Black won it back for UUP.” The TUV were third in the poll.
Mr Hatch added: “I’m against co-options on principle. The people should decide and even though the district councils will be wound up in May 2011, I am of a mind to press for a by-election.”
Mr Russell, who is quitting for family reasons, said: “I am negotiating with the parties and I have to say that spending £25,000 of ratepayers’ money on a by-election would be sheer folly.”
In Ballymoney, UUP Alderman James Simpson agreed that a by-election would be a drain on the ratepayers, adding that the co-option went through smoothly on Monday night.
“Ballymoney felt it was right and proper that a person elected to a council should be replaced by a party member in the event of a mid-term vacancy,” he added.
TUV leader Jim Allister said: “It would surprise me if Craigavon forced a by-election at this stage. Mark Russell has spoken to all parties and nobody would be making themselves popular in the present circumstance to create a by-election. I understood there was a consensus, but it’s up to the parties.”
Craigavon’s DUP group leader Stephen Moutray said: “We will not object to co-option, but if UUP do so we will reserve our right to enter the contest.”
Sinn Fein and the SDLP in Craigavon both favour co-option, but neither would count in Lurgan where there are six unionists and one SF councillor. But Sinn Fein described the DUP-TUV pact as “arrogant and worthless”.
The TUV selection is likely to be either former Craigavon DUP council member David Calvert or his son-in-law Ivor McConnell, who is party chairman.