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Parties begin process of selecting replacement MLAs

Michael Gray Sloan missed out on a Stormont seat in 2016
Paul Ainsworth

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Replacement MLAs are being sought to take the Assembly seats vacated by five of the north's new MPs.

Following Thursday's General Election success for Sinn Féin and the DUP, both parties will require candidates to be co-opted to Stormont in place of MLAs departing the Assembly to take on Westminster roles.

Only one of the new Members of Parliament will be taking his seat – the DUP's Paul Girvan, who deposed Ulster Unionist Danny Kinahan two years after the UUP snatched it from the incumbent William McCrea.

According to party members in South Antrim, one man is the obvious candidate to take his place – former MLA Trevor Clarke.

The veteran local DUP member was a councillor in Antrim before being elected to the Assembly in 2007, where he spent a decade before losing out by a whisker earlier this year when party colleague Pam Cameron clinched the last available South Antrim seat.

Antrim DUP councillor Nigel Kells said Mr Clarke would be the “natural choice” for co-option.

“I would be fully supportive of Trevor if he was to seek a return to the Assembly,” Mr Kells told the Irish News.

“After so many years of service, no-one here would stand in his way if he was to put his name forward.”

Sinn Féin meanwhile, face four co-options to avoid MLAs double-jobbing.

In West Tyrone, newly elected MP Barry McElduff was remaining tight-lipped about who might take his place in the Assembly chamber should Stormont emerge from the current impasse.

“A replacement will have to be found soon,” he said.

“In West Tyrone our party will be meeting next week to decide through an internal democratic process who my successor will be. We will be in a position to name that person soon.”

In Foyle, Elisha McCallion has barely warmed the Stormont seat she won in March before vacating her MLA position for her new role.

Following her historic defeat of the SDLP – which had held Foyle for 34 years – a new local MLA will be sought.

According to Derry Sinn Féin councillor Michael Cooper, no formal discussions have yet taken place as to who it will be.

“It's premature to speculate, but the party is growing in confidence and there are a lot of talented people who could take that seat,” he said, refusing to rule out putting his own name forward.

In Fermanagh and South Tyrone, local Sinn Féin councillor Tommy Maguire was not sure who might replace Michelle Gildernew in the Assembly after she retook the Westminster post from the UUP's Tom Elliott.

“Never say never,” he said of his own chances.

Finally, no-one was available from the Sinn Féin South Down team to speculate on who might be co-opted to take the seat vacated by Chris Hazzard.

However, a likely candidate is local teacher Michael Gray Sloan, who represents the party on the Education Authority.

Mr Sloan, who also worked as an advisor to Caitríona Ruane, stood as an Assembly candidate in 2016 when six seats were up for grabs in South Down, and claimed a solid 8.6 percent of first-preference votes.

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