Northern Ireland news

Steve Aiken refuses to confirm George Hamilton North Down candidate approach

Steve Aiken couldn't say categorically whether or not he approached former chief constable Sir George Hamilton to stand as a Westminster candidate

ULSTER Unionist leader Steve Aiken has declined to state categorically whether or not he approached former chief constable Sir George Hamilton to stand as a Westminster candidate in North Down.

It has been claimed the "top-tier of the UUP" and others approached the former PSNI head to explore the possibility of him contesting the seat.

The approaches are said to have taken place before Lady Sylvia Hermon, North Down MP since 2001, withdrew from the Westminster race earlier this month.

The claims came from veteran journalist Brian Rowan, who himself stood in the constituency as an independent in the 2007 assembly election.

Mr Rowan said his claims have not been not been challenged by Sir George.

Quizzed about the approach on BBC's The View, Mr Aiken said he had known the former chief constable for a "long time" and that the two had had "many private conversations" in which the pair had discussed a "range of issues".

"There was only ever one candidate in the frame for North Down and that was Alan Chambers," the UUP leader said.

Mr Aiken also defended his criticism of Queen's University academic Professor Colin Harvey, who has carried out research on constitutional change.

The South Antrim MLA claimed that there was an absence unionist academics at the university countering nationalist voices.

He described Queen's as a "cool place"for unionists.

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