A senior Assembly member is running against Diane Dodds to become the DUP’s European candidate, it emerged today.
East Belfast MLA Robin Newton threw his hat in the ring weeks before Mrs Dodds, wife of the Finance Minister and North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds, was persuaded to stand.
Mrs Dodds remains the favourite but the rival candidate from within the party’s Assembly team means a more open contest.
The party’s Executive is to meet to formally select its standard-bearer for the June 4 election on next Tuesday, February 3.
Mr Newton, who is also a long-standing Belfast councillor, said today: “I had allowed my name to go forward before Diane, so it is now a new situation. I have some experience in the party and thought there would be an opportunity there.”
Refusing to enter any public controversy with Mrs Dodds, Mr Newton said he had had some experience of European funding issues and other areas as a councillor. Mrs Dodds, who lost her Assembly seat in west Belfast at the last election, has made no public comment.
Mr Newton is a former international athlete who is chief executive of a management consultancy and has been a “strong campaigner on behalf of the elderly and has worked with many senior citizen clubs, tenants organisations, community groups and youth groups in east Belfast,” the party says.
Deirdre Nelson, a party councillor in Ballymena, is the only other DUP member to have been confirmed as a potential nominee but other names may still become public.
A spokesman said: “The selection process is at an advanced stage.This election will be a clear battle between the DUP and Sinn Fein. It is crucial that Sinn Fein does not top the poll.
“The DUP has proved that it is the only Party capable of beating Sinn Fein.”