Politics

Race is on to fill Assembly seats after Westminster Election leaves gaps

As newly elected MPs head to Westminster the race is on to fill a number of Assembly seats

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Alliance candidate Sorcha Eastwood celebrates at the South Lake Leisure Centre in Craigavon, Co Armagh, after winning the Lagan Valley constituency. Oliver McVeigh/PA Wire (Oliver McVeigh/Oliver McVeigh/PA Wire)

As the dust settles on last week’s general election, a number of seats in the Assembly now need to be filled as MPs take up their seats in Westminster.

Parties in the North will assess who among their ranks will be co-opted into seats vacated by members elected on Friday.

Alliance’s Sorcha Eastwood made history by becoming the first woman and first non-unionist to win the Lagan Valley seat – the seat former DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson held for 27 years.

But Ms Eastwood’s success means that her Lagan Valley Assembly seat will need to filed in the coming week.

One potential option would be to co-opt the party’s deputy leader, Stephen Farry, who lost his North Down Westminster seat to independent Alex Easton.

But speaking on the BBC’s Sunday Politics Ms Eastwood said that while she did not know who would take her place, Mr Farry was not in the running.

“We are a professional party - we run things through a process. That’s exactly what we’re going to be doing,” she said.

“It’s a very tight timeframe for us to do that.”

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Stephen Farry at election count in the Titanic Exhibition Centre, Belfast. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye (Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye/Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye )

Ms Eastwood added: “Stephen is a great loss, not just to Alliance, not just to Westminster, but to Northern Ireland, I think.

“He needs to take time to reflect on what’s happened. He has so much to contribute in any sphere of life, in any way he wants.”

Mr Easton’s successful run as MP for North Down might pave the way for former DUP minister Jonathan Bell to make a return to the corridors of Stormont.

Mr Bell worked as Mr Easton’s election agent during his election campaign and was pictured alongside him as he celebrated winning his parliamentary seat.

Austen Lennon, a former election agent of Mr Easton, who is also an independent councillor, and former DUP special adviser and local councillor Peter Martin’s name have also been mooted.

Mr Bell, the former Enterprise Minister overseeing the RHI scheme, was suspended by the DUP in December 2016 after making explosive claims that DUP special advisers were reluctant to introduce cost control tariffs to the scheme.

TUV leader Jim Allister’s surprise win in North Antrim over incumbent Ian Paisley leaves another Assembly seat empty.

The party currently has nine councillors including five in Mid and East Antrim Council and Causeway Coast and Glens Council, “some of which are very capable” according to the party leader.

Deputy leader Ron McDowell is the party’s highest profile member, but currently serves as a councillor for Belfast City Council.

Former Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) leader Tom Elliott is also expected to relinquish his seat at Stormont after being given a peerage in the dissolution honours list.

Mr Elliott was re-elected as the MLA for Fermanagh and South Tyrone in 2022, having previously served between 2003 and 2015.

He was MP for the Fermanagh and South Tyrone constituency between 2015-2017, and UUP party leader from 2010-2012.

Mr Elliott is currently Deputy Chief Whip, the party spokesman for Agriculture and Environment and chairs the Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee at Stormont.

While it is legally possible for him to retain his seat in the Assembly while also holding a peerage, it is expected that he will leave the Assembly.

Speaking on BBC’s Sunday Politics, former UUP leader Lord Empey said it was his “understanding” that Mr Elliott would “relinquish his seat at Stormont eventually”.

He added: “We have a process in our party, but my expectation is that that seat will be replaced.”

Diana Armstrong who lost out on the race for the Fermanagh and South Tyrone seat on Friday has been mooted as an option for his replacement.