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Jonathan Bell yet to announce election bid as DUP minister transfers into his constituency

Jonathan Bell, the suspended DUP MLA, has yet to announce if he will stand for re-election in Strangford

FORMER enterprise minister Jonathan Bell has yet to announce if he is to stand in the Assembly election, as nominations for candidates get underway this morning.

It comes as the DUP confirmed education minister Peter Weir, the North Down MLA, will transfer constituency and stand in Strangford, potentially against his former party colleague.

Mr Bell was suspended from the DUP following a tearful BBC interview in which he claimed former First Minister Arlene Foster demanded he keep the RHI scheme open despite huge losses.

The Strangford MLA may seek to defend his seat as an independent candidate but has yet to make any comment on whether he will stand for re-election.

The Irish News attempted to contact Mr Bell yesterday, but he did not respond to a request for comment.

Candidates can begin to formally register their nominations from 10am this morning, and have until 1pm on February 8 to get their name on the ballot paper.

In the most recent election in May, Mr Weir received the lowest first preference vote in North Down of the three DUP candidates, although all three were elected.

In Strangford, the DUP ran four candidates last year, with three elected.

Mr Weir's decision to move constituency means that he will join fellow ministers Michelle McIlveen and Simon Hamilton on the DUP ticket in Strangford, where Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt topped the poll in May.

Meanwhile, the under-fire Assembly speaker Robin Newton, who survived a motion of no confidence earlier this month, has announced he is to defend his East Belfast seat.

The DUP MLA had faced calls to step aside as speaker in December for allowing then First Minister Arlene Foster to make a statement on the RHI fiasco without the support of then deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

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