Northern Ireland news

DUP selects convicted drink-driver to stand in council elections

Ex-DUP Mayor of Newtownabbey Thomas Hogg was convicted of drink-driving in May. Picture by Alan Lewis, Photopress

A DUP councillor has hit out at his party's decision to select a man convicted of drink driving as a candidate in May's local government elections.

Former Antrim and Newtownabbey mayor Thomas Hogg admitted to the crime in May 2018.

He was banned from driving for 12 months and fined £250 after he was stopped by police on the Crumlin Road in north Belfast in April last year.

He was later suspended from the council and the DUP. That party suspension has now been lifted.

The 30-year-old will run as a candidate to represent Macedon on Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council in May.

North Down and Ards councillor Tom Smith said he was "disgusted" by the decision to select Mr Hogg.

"He is a convicted drunk driver currently suspended from being a councillor," he tweeted. "I know many in the party feel the same but will they speak out? They should!"

Former DUP special adviser Timothy Cairns, who worked in ex-First Minister Peter Robinson's office and acted an adviser to former enterprise minister Jonathan Bell, backed Mr Smith's view.

"The economy of value in the DUP is an odd one to be sure," he tweeted. "It all depends on who is backing you, rather than what you can offer or what your past is. No other political party acts in this way. Well done for speaking out."

Mr Smith replied: "Thanks Tim - I publicly supported his suspension last May - not sure anyone else did".

"But this is a terrible crime - so many innocent lives lost and yet so many of those who like to walk about with their religious and moral masks on - have NOTHING to say on this!" he tweeted.

Mr Hogg could not be contacted for comment.

A DUP spokesman said: "Cllr Hogg has previously accepted his suspension and apologised for his behaviour. He has been selected by party members and we don’t intend giving a running commentary on our selection processes".

Meanwhile, former health minister Jim Wells has blocked Mr Smith and another DUP colleague from Facebook and Twitter over their support for LGBT issues.

The South Down MLA confirmed that he had blocked Mr Smith and North Down and Ards councillor Alistair Cathcart from his personal accounts.

The two councillors voted against their party colleagues in December to pass a motion which will see Conway Square in Newtownards, Co Down, lit up in rainbow colours on May 13 to mark the start of LGBT awareness week.

Mr Wells told the Belfast Telegraph he hoped Mr Smith will "soon be an ex-DUP councillor".

"He has twice voted against party policy, to allow LGBT colours to be lit up on council property," he said.

"In fact his vote, and another DUP councillor, Councillor Cathcart, were the deciding votes."

Mr Wells said his Twitter and Facebook accounts were "personal sites, they are not party sites".

"I can decide who I want and who I don’t, and I certainly don’t wish to hear either Councillor Cathcart or Councillor Smith coming out with their pro-LGBT comments," he said.

Mr Wells remains a DUP member but has had the party whip suspended for the past 10 months after he openly criticised the party leadership.

Mr Smith tweeted yesterday: "What an extraordinary rant from someone that I have never spoken to. All because I don’t hate gay people. By the way I don’t hate you either Jim. I believe in love, compassion, kindness towards others - things I will never be ashamed of."

Mr Cathcart has so far not responded.

Meanwhile, a veteran DUP councillor who is ex-enterprise minister Jonathan Bell’s sister-in-law has not been selected to stand in May’s elections.

Antrim and Newtownabbey councillor Pamela Barr tweeted that she had not been selected “for reasons best left unsaid”.

“I do however, still firmly believe that families should stick together in times of despair and hurt and I believe that I can end my 18 years’ service with my head held high,” she said.

Mr Bell was suspended from the DUP after he made explosive claims about leader Arlene Foster and party advisers over the botched renewable heat incentive scheme.

He stood as an independent in the 2017 general election but lost his seat.

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