Northern Ireland news

Former Scottish Tory leader praises Doug Beattie after UUP selects Catholic to run in South Belfast

Ulster Unionist South Belfast candidate Stephen McCarthy

THE FORMER leader of the Scottish Tories has described Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie as the "single most interesting person in politics right now".

Ruth Davidson, now Baroness Davidson of Lundin, was responding to news that the UUP will run a west Belfast-raised Catholic as a Stormont candidate.

Stephen McCarthy, who served for two years on Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council before losing his seat in 2019, will run in the forthcoming election in South Belfast, a constituency once dominated by the UUP.

The party held the Westminster seat until 2005 but hasn't had an MLA in South Belfast since 2016.

Mr McCarthy grew up in the St James area off the Falls Road before moving across the city to the Short Strand.

His grandfather, Mickey Lenaghan, was shot dead in 1991 by the UVF while working as a taxi driver.

The 33-year-old, who currently runs his party leader's constituency office, told The Irish News in 2016 that there were many "de facto unionists within the Catholic community".

He described himself as a unionist principally for "economic reasons" but also felt both "Irish and British", adding: "I don't feel the two are mutually exclusive."

Mr McCarthy said he had never considered joining the DUP, describing the party as "a mix of Ulster nationalism and fear unionism".

He told the Belfast Telegraph that South Belfast "should be a natural home for a progressive, pro-union party".

"As someone who grew up in a working-class Catholic home and is a unionist, I don't fit a simple stereotype. I believe my story reflects the diversity that makes South Belfast tick," he said.

A supporter of same-sex marriage who characterises himself as "left of centre", Mr McCarthy said that only way unionism could win a border poll was "by reaching out to people like me".

In response to a tweet today from Mr McCarthy confirming his candidacy, Baroness Davidson tweeted that the selection was "reinforcing my belief" that Mr Beattie is the "single most interesting person in politics right now".

"And that we all should be paying a bit more attention to NI," she added.

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