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'Heading for retirement? They wish.' TUV’s Jim Allister dismisses Arlene Foster remark

By Suzanne Breen

TUV leader Jim Allister has declined to say whether or not he will stand again in the next Assembly elections.

First Minister Arlene Foster last month remarked that Mr Allister (63) was heading towards retirement.

"They wish! But I have no such plans," the North Antrim MLA told the Belfast Telegraph.

However, when asked if he would contest the 2021 Stormont poll, he replied: "That's a long time away."

Speaking ahead of his party's annual conference in Cookstown tomorrow, Mr Allister admitted that he was disappointed that the TUV hadn't been able to secure electoral gains on the back of DUP difficulties in recent years.

And the former barrister, who is often portrayed by his opponents as narrow-minded, revealed that the politicians he most admires at Stormont are nationalist and left-wing. He singled out young SDLP MLAs and veteran socialist and former civil rights leader Eamonn McCann for praise.

The TUV, which Mr Allister formed nine years ago, had a poor Assembly election in May with its leader being the only one of 15 candidates returned to Stormont.

"Of course, I'm disappointed, there's no point in concealing that," he said.

"The DUP couldn't have had a worse five years with scandal, Nama, and a government panel confirming that the IRA still exists.

"Unfortunately, the TUV wasn't able to take advantage. By playing the 'Stop Marty' card, the DUP overcame all that.

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"The dishonesty was obvious once the election was over. They are buddied up together in government and have never been closer. So the truth was 'Stop Marty and then we'll make him joint First Minister.'"

Mr Allister spoke highly of several politicians in the Assembly who are not from the unionist tradition.

"I find four of the SDLP's new MLAs - Claire Hanna, Nichola Mallon, Sinead Bradley and Daniel McCrossan - very impressive," he said. "They make for a strong team. I like to see able people.

"What hurts me most is the lobby fodder who have no ability and shouldn't even be in Stormont," he added. And he singled out People Before Profit's Foyle MLA Eamonn McCann, for particular praise.

"He is a great orator. He has enlivened the chamber. I disagree with Eamonn politically, but I recognise his talent," he added.

Mr Allister welcomed Naomi Long's election as Alliance leader and believed she would do a better job than her predecessor.

"She has more fight in her. Politically, I wasn't a fan of David Ford's," he said. The TUV leader revealed that when he first went to Stormont in 2011, many DUP MLAs snubbed him.

"There were a lot who, if I met them in the corridor, had a great interest in their shoelaces, but they have got over that now," he said.

On his personal relationship with Arlene Foster, he said, "she wouldn't go out of her way to chat to me, but she would pass herself". He said he had known Mrs Foster, a former solicitor, from his legal career.

"I was aware of her interest in politics but it didn't occur to me that she would ever be First Minister," he added.

The TUV leader also disclosed that, outside the chamber, he won't speak to Sinn Fein MLAs.

Full story: Jim Allister: The 'angry man' of politics on why brickbats don't bother him, how he (eventually) wooed his wife and what he does to get away from it all

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