Belfast Telegraph

Ex-DUP MLA David McIlveen throws support behind North Antrim UUP candidate

By Jonny Bell

A former MLA who remains a DUP member has given his backing to the UUP candidate in North Antrim.

David McIlveen, was an MLA for North Antrim from 2011 to 2016. He controversially fell out with the party in January this year when he criticised leader Arlene Foster over her handling of the RHI debacle.

On Tuesday the UUP's Robin Swann said he was pleased to have received the support of Mr McIlveen for Thursday's vote.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Mr McIlveen said he was still "technically" a member of the DUP but that he had made his choice solely based on personal preference.

He said: "Robin and I joined the Assembly at around about the same time and I believe he works very hard for the area and to me this is about who best represents the area.

"I am outside the tent now and feel free to decide on who to vote for. You could say I am backing the underdog.

"I certainly would not want to advise people on how they want to vote and if others want to follow suit it is up to them."

In North Antrim the DUP is fielding three candidates and the UUP one. Jim Allister should be returned and some have speculated he may bring home his running mate Timothy Gaston.

Mr McIlveen said that he took voting very seriously and would probably not know how he would vote further down the ballot but that he would think the DUP would be high up on his paper.

"They are certainly former colleagues and I would wish them well. Purely for me this is based on service.

"Realistically the DUP should get two elected, I would have thought three would be difficult and I would hope that of the four unionist candidates elected Robin Swann would be one of them.

"This will be an election where people will have to vote out of their comfort zone - no one will get off lightly - and for me it is about who works the hardest and the best."

Asked if he would put the SDLP higher up his ballot, he said he would have difficulty given the party's "watering down" of policies on moral issues.

"They would be off the radar for me. Unionists should vote for who they think will be best for unionism and obviously if you ask some who they prefer, then it will always be the SDLP over Sinn Fein."

In January he said DUP party members considered Arlene Foster "deeply damaged" and an "electoral liability" in the wake of the RHI fiasco. He said his criticism of Mrs Foster was nothing personal but that he was "unlikely" to remain a member of the party.

More: David McIlveen: DUP confused between humility and humiliation and detached from reality over RHI

In reply, East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson said Mr McIlveen was "sore" over his downfall at the ballot box and there was no evidence of disquiet in party ranks.

Mr McIlveen, who works in property and publishing with business interests in the Middle East said that he was content to remain outside politics and still had concerns with the current DUP leadership.

"I grew up in the party and have great regard for its legacy. But the current setup and the way it is going does not reflect the party I joined.

"If the party were to decide to let me go I would not be disappointed. "

And if things were to change at the top of the DUP, would he consider a return?

"You never say never, but it's not in my immediate future and certainly don't expect it to be in the long run. Business has always been my passion and I look back at my five years in the Assembly with pleasure," he added.

"I am a free private citizen and I am enjoying it immensely and the party are free to deal with me as they see fit."

The DUP, in a statement, responded: "All indications show that this election is neck and neck. It is only the DUP or Sinn Fein that will win this election.

"People have a very clear choice to make and supporting a party that is it even running enough candidates to win the election can only assist Sinn Fein.

"We want the Assembly back, working for people and delivering for Northern Ireland. Our focus is on building for the future whilst others have called this election to weaken unionism."

North Antrim Assembly candidates

Patricia O'Lynn (Alliance)

Paul Frew (DUP)

Phillip Logan (DUP)

Mervyn Storey (DUP)

Mark Bailey (Green)

Connor Duncan (SDLP)

Philip McGuigan (SF)

Robin Swann (UUP)

Jim Allister (TUV)

Timothy Gaston (TUV)

Monica Digney (Ind)

Adam McBride (Ind)

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