Reports that up to a third of DUP assembly members could step down before Stormont election
UP to eight DUP MLAs may not stand in the next Assembly elections, party sources claimed yesterday.
The DUP currently has 26 MLAs sitting in the Assembly at Stormont.
According to the Sunday Times report the party expects up to six more not to contest the next election, following the decision by North Belfast MLA William Humphrey.
Days ago he cited personal reasons for not seeking re-election at next year’s Stormont poll.
It is understood that George Robinson, DUP MLA for East Derry, will also retire ahead of the election.
While DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson did not confirm to The Sunday Times the exact numbers expected to stand down, he did admit “a number” of his party’s representatives will not be contesting the forthcoming poll.
“The selection process is currently under way and I am not going to confirm how many of my colleagues won’t be going forward again. However, it is safe to say that a number of my colleagues have indicated they won’t stand again,” he said.
“So this does raise the prospect of new faces in our team for the elections and hopefully for our assembly team.”
Despite the suggested numbers, a party source told the newspaper it would be “totally wrong” to suggest any kind of “purge”.
“Rather this is a natural process where party MLAs step down and new blood comes in; new faces that will be more representative of wider Northern Ireland society than ever before,” the source said.
The party which has struggled to maintain its position in recent polls is facing losses in constituencies such as Lagan Valley and Strangford.
Last week Sir Jeffrey confirmed he intended to stand as an assembly candidate in Lagan Valley, taking a step away from Westminster, in the hope of leading the party from Stormont.
The party has two sitting MLAs - Donaldson's predecessor Edwin Poots and current First Minister Paul Givan.
There are doubts about whether the party could win three seats prompting speculation about a move elsewhere for Mr Givan, possibly to Westminster.
The source also indicated that the prospect of Sinn Féin with Michelle O'Neill at the helm as first minister would drive a strong campaign by the DUP.
"Jeffrey has stabilised the ship in terms of recent poll trends and the prospect of Michelle O'Neill as first minister will focus all unionist minds intently."
The DUP did not respond.