Ex-DUP Lord Mayor is hoping to win Belfast council seat for TUV
A former DUP Lord Mayor of Belfast is making a political comeback and running for the TUV in May's council elections.
Eric Smyth, who represented the greater Shankill area in City Hall for 20 years, is hoping to win back a seat for the TUV in the Court ward.
Jolene Bunting took the seat for Jim Allister's party in 2014 but later resigned from the TUV and now sits as an independent.
Mr Smyth (70) was one of the DUP's most high-profile and at times controversial councillors.
As Lord Mayor, he welcomed Bill Clinton to Belfast in 1995, where he turned on the Christmas tree lights, but later denounced the US President.
The firebrand preacher left the party in 2005 over proposals to sit in government with Sinn Fein at Stormont.
"I am delighted to be returning to front-line politics," he told the Belfast Telegraph last night.
"I've long identified with the TUV. They talk straight like I do and you know where you stand with them. The Good Friday Agreement is finished unless it's renegotiated and Stormont is finished. Some of my old DUP colleagues will be surprised to see me back. I left the party because I thought it wasn't what it used to be and had abandoned its principles."
Mr Smyth said while he had been "fed up with so many Ulster Unionists taking up leading roles in the DUP", his split from the party had not been personal.
"I consider Nigel Dodds and Sammy Wilson good friends and, although we took different political paths, there wouldn't be much that separates us on some things," he said.
The father of 10 is the founder of and minister at the Jesus Saves Bible Church on Limestone Road, which is aligned with the Free Presbyterian Church.
He said he would be standing on a staunch pro-Brexit ticket and it was "disgraceful that the democratic referendum result is being ignored".
In 1996, Mr Smyth was widely condemned for saying he would no longer shop in Catholic stores. He reversed his boycott a week later. He told the Belfast Telegraph last night he had "made that stupid statement in haste" and that when he shopped he did not know or care about the religion of the business owner.
Although he opposed any move to include Sinn Fein in government, while a councillor Mr Smyth ignored the DUP's then policy of having no communication with the party's representatives. "I always believed in treating people as I found them. Our Lord Jesus would not turn his face against anyone," he said.
He joined the TUV earlier this year and was one of three people who put their names forward to be its Court candidate.
He said: "I'm hoping to win the seat, but if I don't get in, I don't get in. There are new faces in City Hall, but there are some old ones there too and it will be good seeing them again if I am elected."
TUV leader Jim Allister said: "I am delighted that a candidate of Eric's calibre with his long record of distinguished service has agreed to be the TUV standard bearer in this election.
"I've no doubt he will prove to be a strong voice for the people of Court. People know where they stand with the TUV and where they stand with Eric Smyth. I look forward to joining him on the campaign trail."
Court currently has two Sinn Fein and two DUP councillors, along with Ms Bunting and PUP leader Billy Hutchison.