Belfast Telegraph

Fresh Stormont election needed as a fifth of MLAs were co-opted: Allister

Sinn Fein’s Liz Kimmins
Sinn Fein’s Liz Kimmins
Trevor Clarke
SDLP’s Sinead McLaughlin
Alliance’s Andrew Muir
Green Party’s Rachel Woods
Sinn Fein’s Catherine Kelly
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

A new Stormont election should take place because almost a fifth of MLAs who will take their seats in the new Assembly were co-opted, TUV leader Jim Allister has said.

A total of 16 of our 90 MLAs (18%) were not elected in the March 2017 poll. They include eight Sinn Fein, three DUP, two SDLP, two Alliance and one Green representative.

They have replaced the members of their parties elected three years ago who resigned for a variety of reasons. Some left for personal reasons or to pursue careers outside politics, others were elected to Westminster.

Their replacements will take their Stormont seats this week after power-sharing's restoration. But concerns have been raised about the impact on democracy.

Mr Allister said: "A fresh election is needed because the Assembly will contain such a huge proportion of unelected members.

"That adds a further tier to the already existing lack of democracy. Parties will also be going into government in very different circumstances to what their 2017 manifestos said. And mandatory coalition means we aren't allowed to change our government or vote a party out of office."

Sinn Fein has more co-opted MLAs than any other party.

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The most high-profile departure from its ranks was former Finance Minister Mairtin O Muilleoir, who was replaced as South Belfast MLA last month by the city's former Lord Mayor Deirdre Hargey. Mr O Muilleoir said it was time to hand over to a new generation of republicans. One of his final acts as a Stormont minister was setting up the inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal.

Sinn Fein Newry and Armagh MLA Megan Fearon, a junior minister in the last Executive, also left politics. She was replaced by Newry, Mourne and Down councillor Liz Kimmins.

Announcing her departure from politics, Ms Fearon said it was time for a new challenge.

The 28-year-old was a junior minister to Martin McGuinness in the Executive Office and sat on several Stormont committees.

Emma Rogan was co-opted to the Assembly to replace Chris Hazzard when he was elected South Down MP in 2017. She was a schoolgirl when her father Adrian was shot dead in the UVF's 1994 Loughinisland massacre.

Community worker Karen Mullan was chosen to replace Elisha McCallion in Foyle after Ms McCallion was elected to Westminster in 2017. Ms McCallion lost her seat to SDLP leader Colum Eastwood last month.

Colm Gildernew stepped into the shoes of his younger sister Michelle when she was elected Fermanagh and South Tyrone MP three years ago.

In West Tyrone, Catherine Kelly replaced Barry McElduff in Stormont after his election to Westminster in 2017. Mr McElduff resigned seven months later after he posted a video of himself balancing a Kingsmill loaf on his head on the anniversary of the 1976 IRA massacre.

Other Sinn Fein co-options include Maoliosa McHugh for Michaela Boyle in West Tyrone and Emma Sheerin for Ian Milne in Mid-Ulster.

The DUP co-opted its MEP Diane Dodds into the seat vacated by Carla Lockhart, who was elected Upper Bann MP last month. Trevor Clarke, a former MLA who lost his seat in the 2017 Assembly election, returned in place of Paul Girvan, after he was elected South Antrim MP three months later.

The most high-profile DUP departure was former minister Simon Hamilton. He had held the Health, Finance and Economy portfolios in the Executive. An accountant by profession, he left politics to become chief executive officer at Belfast Chamber of Commerce. He was one of the DUP's senior negotiators during the failed 2018 Stormont talks.

The SDLP selected former Derry Chamber of Commerce chief executive Sinead McLaughlin to replace Mr Eastwood on his election to Westminster as Foyle MP.

Matthew O'Toole, a former Downing Street adviser, has replaced Claire Hanna as South Belfast MLA.

Andrew Muir replaced Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry as North Down MLA. Antrim and Newtownabbey councillor John Blair replaced former Alliance leader David Ford - who quit after 20 years in Stormont - as South Antrim MLA.

Former Green Party leader Steven Agnew left politics to head up the Northern Ireland Renewables Industry Group last year. He was an MLA for eight years and party leader for seven. He was replaced by his constituency office manager Rachel Woods.

The Ulster Unionist Party is the only one of the five main parties not to have replaced any of its MLA team.

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