Northern Ireland news

Former DUP press officer Deborah Erskine earmarked for Arlene Foster's Stormont seat

Arlene Foster with Deborah Erskine, who has been earmarked to replace the former first minister in the assembly

A ONE-TIME DUP press officer and Fermanagh councillor has emerged as the clear favourite to replace Arlene Foster in the assembly when the former first minister steps down later this month.

Deborah Erskine, who represents the Erne North ward on Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, is a close friend and ally of the former DUP leader.

The 28-year-old previously worked in the DUP press office, ahead of being elected as a councillor in May 2019.

She declined to comment on her potential co-option when contacted by The Irish News last night, while her party was also staying silent on the speculation.

Mrs Foster's assembly seat, the sole DUP seat in the north's most westerly constituency, is expected to become available as early as next week.

The former first minister has previously signalled that she plans to step down as an MLA and leave the DUP. However, it is unclear whether Mrs Foster remains determined to sever her ties with the party now that Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has succeeded Edwin Poots as party leader.

When the former DUP leader resigns her seat, which she has held since 2003 having first been elected as an Ulster Unionist, her party has seven days to nominate a replacement.

Whoever takes the seat will become the fifth DUP co-optee in the current mandate.

It had been speculated recently that Mrs Erskine was her party's choice to chair Fermanagh and Omagh District Council for the forthcoming year, however, party colleague Errol Thompson last week emerged as the surprise nomination.

Mrs Erskine (neé Armstrong) is thought to have supported fellow Fermanagh DUP member Paul Bell, who resigned from the party last month after publicly criticising Mr Poots' leadership and the treatment of Mrs Foster. He has since been reinstated.

The former journalist and press officer, who was married in 2019, is understood to be considering the potential impact of a full-time career in politics on her family life,

In a recent interview with the Impartial Reporter she described herself as “forward-thinking, approachable and a unionist”.

 Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has denied that he replaced Paul Frew as Economy Minister because the North Antrim MLA supported Edwin Poots in the DUP leadership contest.

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