Belfast Telegraph

We did the right thing standing aside in North Down: UUP

By Noel McAdam

Ulster Unionists have maintained they are right to stay out of the North Down election contest, in favour of sitting MP Lady Sylvia Hermon.

The party insisted its move is not related to the DUP's surprise decision to challenge Lady Hermon, selecting MLA Alex Easton to stand against her.

In contrast the UUP stood down its candidate, North Down councillor Carl McClean and urged voters to support Lady Hermon, even though she quit the party over its pact with the Conservatives in the 2010 General Election.

Mr McClean said: "It is not a surprise at all that the DUP is fighting this seat and what we did was independent of whatever the DUP intends.

"I know Alex Easton has long had his sights on a parliamentary seat in North Down.

"The only surprise is that the DUP has left it quite late before confirming that Mr Easton is going to run."

Peter Robinson's party did keep out of the contest in 2010, which helped ensure Lady Hermon held on to the seat.

Instead the then combined Ulster Unionist and Conservative 'new force' (UNCUNF) ran against her, but their candidate Ian Parsley, formerly of the Alliance Party, gained only around 7,000 votes compared to more than 21,000 for Lady Hermon.

The DUP has run candidates in the constituency before with MLA Peter Weir around 5,000 votes behind Lady Hermon in the 2005 election.

The DUP move indicates its belief it can take the constituency if, as anticipated, Lady Hermon stands down before the next election in 2020. She was not making any comment yesterday.

The party argued yesterday that Mr Easton could defeat Mrs Hermon, who was first elected in 2001 when she defeated UKUP leader Robert McCartney.

First elected as a DUP MLA for the area in 2003, Mr Easton subsequently topped the poll in both the 2007 and 2011 Assembly elections.

Mr Easton said: "With the prospect of a hung parliament, the next North Down MP needs to part of a larger team to wield real influence in the House of Commons."

Belfast Telegraph


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