Northern Ireland news

Robin Swann looks set to be new Ulster Unionist leader

North Antrim MLA Robin Swann is the next Ulster Unionist leader. Picture by Cliff Donaldson

NORTH Antrim MLA Robin Swann looks set to be confirmed for the Ulster Unionist leadership after he was the only person to put his name forward for the role.

Mr Swann, who has been an MLA since 2011, confirmed yesterday that he planned to stand following the resignation of Mike Nesbitt earlier this month.

With no one else in contention, he is expected to be formally confirmed as leader when the party meets on April 8.

"I can confirm that I have submitted papers today to seek election as leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, after receiving support from across the party including members of our Westminster, Assembly and local government teams and I look forward to our annual general meeting on the 8th of April," he said.

Mr Swann (45), from Kells in Co Antrim, is the UUP's chief whip.

The party is now the fourth largest in the assembly after it lost six seats in the election.

There had been speculation South Antrim assembly member Steve Aiken and Upper Bann MLA Doug Beattie could stand for the leadership. But both later ruled themselves out.

Mr Aiken said he had signed Mr Swann's nomination papers and felt he would be an "excellent leader".

"He is one of the few people who has the breadth and depth of experience," he told the BBC. "He is the chief whip, understands the system in the Assembly and has the vast majority of support from the party."

Mr Beattie has already ruled himself out of the race, saying he did not have enough experience to be leader.

"It would not be right for me to lead the party, I do not have the political nuances that many other people have," he said earlier this month.

Former leader, Fermanagh and South Tyrone MP Tom Elliott, also ruled himself out of contention.

Mr Nesbitt resigned hours after the first ballots were counted in the snap assembly election earlier this month.

The Strangford MLA, who became leader in March 2012, stood down after several high-profile colleagues, including Danny Kennedy in Newry and Armagh and Jo-Anne Dobson in Upper Bann, lost their seats.

He had been strongly criticised by some unionists after he said he would give an SDLP candidate his second-preference vote, ahead of a DUP candidate.

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