THE DUP has drawn up a ‘Doomsday’ plan to save the political skins of two high-profile MPs should they lose their Westminster seats.
The strategy would see Emma Little Pengelly moved into North Down as an MLA and deputy leader Nigel Dodds taking on the same role in Upper Bann.
It is the party’s back-up plan if the two current MPs lose their seats in South Belfast and North Belfast at next month’s Westminster election — and DUP MLAs Carla Lockhart and Alex Easton meet expectations by winning Upper Bann and North Down.
With anti-Brexit Sinn Fein and the Greens not standing in the south of the city, Pengelly is in deep trouble from the challenge of the SDLP’s Claire Hanna. But a chink of light for her is the likelihood of Alex Easton becoming the new DUP MP for North Down, succeeding independent unionist Lady Sylvia Hermon, who is stepping down after 18 years representing the constituency. If Easton wins, his North Down MLA role will be filled by Pengelly.
Although DUP insiders predict North Belfast will be close, they are quietly confident Dodds will see off Sinn Fein’s John Finucane, albeit with a reduced majority, and retain the seat he has held for 18 years.
However, if Finucane takes North Belfast, there will be a seat in Stormont for the DUP veteran representing Upper Bann — the area in which he and his MEP wife Diane live.
That will have been vacated by Lockhart who is the DUP’s general election candidate in the constituency after disgraced ex-MP love cheat David Simpson decided not to stand. The DUP are defending a sizeable 8,000 majority and Lockhart is heavily tipped to win.
A senior DUP source told Sunday Life that there is a lot of “manoeuvring” going on, with the party determined to find elected roles for Pengelly and Dodds at Stormont should they lose their Westminster seats in a ‘Doomsday’ scenario.
Confirmation from Sinn Fein vice-president Michelle O’Neill at the ard fheis this weekend that her party is working towards a new Assembly next year and is ready to form a “credible Executive” has boosted these DUP plans.
The Mid-Ulster MLA told this weekend’s conference: “The (Good Friday) Agreement also requires an Assembly that works for everyone. The current political impasse is unsustainable and unacceptable.”
This prompted a response from senior DUP insiders, who said: “Every possible Westminster electoral outcome is being considered, but early indications show Emma will lose out in South Belfast, and Nigel will hold North Belfast. We’re also predicting Alex Easton taking North Down and Carla retaining Upper Bann.
“If all this pans out, Emma will move into Alex’s old MLA role in North Down, and Diane Dodds will take over from Carla as an MLA in Upper Bann when the Assembly is restored next year. The only thing that will prevent this is if Nigel loses North Belfast — if that happens he, and not Diane, will become an MLA in Upper Bann.”