UUP leader Doug Beattie has raised the possibility of withdrawing Robin Swann as the party’s’ candidate in South Antrim.
His remarks come after he blamed “overspilled passion” for criticism from one of his MLAs of the party’s decision to give the health portfolio to the North Antrim MLA.
East Belfast MLA Andy Allen said he disagreed with the decision to re-appoint Mr Swann as health minister ahead of him contesting the next general election, which is expected to take place in the autumn.
Former leader of the UUP
The former UUP leader has already announced his intention to stand in South Antrim.
The UUP’s Danny Kinahan won the seat in 2015 but lost it to sitting MP Paul Girvan two years later.
Northern Ireland health minister during coronavirus pandemic
Posting on X, Mr Allen signalled he was unhappy with Mr Swann’s appointment, given his commitment to contest the election.
“We need a health minister with their full focus on the task at hand, not one eye on Westminster,” he said.
Commenting on remarks by Irish News columnist Deidre Heenan, in which she described Mr Swann’s appointment as a “deeply cynical move”, Mr Allen posted: “It would be unforgivable if our health service were being used in such a way.”
UUP leader Doug Beattie said his MLA’s remarks needed to be taken in the context of “the pressure that some people are under”.
He said that in common with himself, the East Belfast MLA had advocated that the Ulster Unionists go into opposition in the assembly.
However, the UUP leader said the consensus in the party was “that we go into government”.
“So there was passion, there was frustration, and sometimes that overspilled, and I think in this case that’s what happened – it overspilled in a tweet, that’s it, nothing more,” he told the BBC.
He described Mr Allen as a “valued member” of the UUP’s MLA group and a “friend”.
Mr Beattie said Mr Swann had “both eyes focused on being minister for health”.
North Antrim MLA for the UUP
In a subsequent BBC interview, the UUP leader said it was “possible” that an alternative candidate would be found for South Antrim.
Mr Beattie said the decision to appoint Mr Swann had been taken in a hurry and that options regarding the Westminster candidacy “have to be discussed”.