Unionist standing in multiple seats defends position

A Unionist leader standing in six constituencies in the North's Assembly Elections today warned the British government against interfering if he is elected to more than one seat.

A Unionist leader standing in six constituencies in the North's Assembly Elections today warned the British government against interfering if he is elected to more than one seat.

UK Unionist leader Robert McCartney broke new ground by putting his name forward in six constituencies – North Down, North Belfast, South Antrim, Lagan Valley, West Tyrone and Fermanagh and South Tyrone.

He claimed the move was to enable people to challenge any attempt by the Reverend Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionists to go into government with Sinn Féin.

“My decision to stand in these constituencies was to give the unionist people a chance to challenge and express their distaste for what is happening,” he said.

“If I am elected in more than one constituency, it is my understanding that I could sign on and then hand in a letter of resignation in the Assembly for one of the constituencies, which would contain the substitute names of people who could replace me.

“If (Northern Ireland Secretary) Peter Hain should pass some legislation or engage in some legal debate over this, think of the political overtones of scandal should he try to remove an elected representative.

“What is most important to me is that people in these constituencies can register their concerns about the DUP and the St Andrews Agreement by casting their votes for my colleagues and for me. Even if I am knocked out in some constituencies, it is important that people have got an opportunity there to make their feelings known.”

Mr McCartney is not the only candidate standing in more than one constituency.

Independent unionist Willie Frazer has decided to run in two constituencies – Newry and Armagh and in Foyle.

Rainbow George of the Make Politicians History campaign is also contesting for constituencies.

A total of 256 candidates will bid for 108 Assembly seats in 18 constituencies when voters go to the polls on March 7.

So far the campaign has been relatively low key.

However, the Reverend Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionists will be bidding to once again become the largest grouping in the next Assembly and have put forward the largest number of candidates with 46.

Sinn Féin also has its sights set on one of the top two posts in the Assembly and is running 38 candidates.

However, following the party’s decision to encourage republicans for the first time in the history of the North to cooperate with the police, the party will also face challenges from former colleagues.

Republican Sinn Féin, which split from Gerry Adams’ party 21 years ago, has put forward six candidates who have vowed not to take their seats should they win them in the Assembly Election.

Former IRA prisoner Gerry McGeough, Paul McGlinchey and Peggy O’Hara, whose son Patsy was among the 10 republican prisoners who died in the 1981 Maze Prison hunger strike, have also challenged Sinn Féin candidates.

A number of independent candidates are also challenging the established parties in the North.

Dr Kieran Deeney will be defending an Assembly seat in West Tyrone.

In North Belfast, Raymond McCord, whose son Raymond Junior’s murder in 1997 triggered Police Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan’s recent devastating report on Royal Ulster Constabulary Special Branch's handling of informers in a loyalist murder gang, will attract considerable attention.

The DUP and Sinn Féin’s main challenges, however, will come from the rival Ulster Unionists and the SDLP.

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