Northern Ireland

DUP election rift over drunk driver

DUP councillor Thomas Hogg Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Thomas Hogg was banned for a year for a drink-driving offence

A rift has emerged within the DUP after the party selected a councillor who has been convicted of drink driving to run in the upcoming council elections.

Ards DUP councillor Tom Smith said he was "disgusted" that Thomas Hogg had been chosen to stand again.

Mr Smith has not been selected by the DUP to run in the May election.

The DUP said it "did not intend to give a running commentary" on its selection processes.

Mr Hogg was convicted of drink driving last year, and in January he was handed a five-month suspension from Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council.

At the time of his conviction he was suspended from the DUP, but has since been reinstated.

'Disgusted'

His selection was announced at the weekend, but Mr Smith took to Twitter to express his disappointment at the decision.

"I am disgusted that the party has selected this guy to run as a candidate in the council elections. He is a convicted drunk driver currently suspended from being a councillor," he said.

"I know many in the party feel the same but will they speak out? They should!"

Mr Smith has not been selected by the DUP to stand in the May council elections, and has yet to respond to a request for comment from BBC News NI.

He has previously broken party ranks on LGBT issues.

Image copyright Geograph/Rossographer
Image caption If passed, the proposal would have seen Ards Town Hall lit up in rainbow colours

Last year, he was one of two DUP councillors who voted in favour of illuminating Ards Town Hall in rainbow colours to mark LGBT Awareness Week.

The other councillor, Alistair Cathcart, told BBC News NI he has been selected to run again.

In a statement, the DUP said Mr Hogg had "previously accepted his suspension and apologised for his behaviour" and that the party did not intend to give a running commentary on its selection processes.

'Head held high'

Another well-known DUP councillor has also been deselected from standing for the party in May's elections.

Pamela Barr is the sister-in-law of ex-DUP enterprise minister Jonathan Bell, who claimed he was forced by party advisers to keep open a flawed green energy scheme that left NI taxpayers with a potential bill of £490m.

Image caption Pamela Barr is the sister-in-law of Jonathan Bell

Mr Bell, who later quit the party, also alleged the DUP had "fitted" him up when the scandal about the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme was emerging into public view.

Mrs Barr has been a councillor on Antrim and Newtownabbey Council since 2001.

She publicly backed him in the snap assembly election in 2017, when Mr Bell announced he would run as an independent candidate for Strangford, but he lost the seat.

On Sunday evening, Mrs Barr posted to social media saying she believed "families should stick together in times of despair and hurt, and I believe I can end my 18 years' service with my head held high".

She told BBC News NI she was taking time out to "reflect" on the situation.

The DUP said the selection process for the election had been very competitive and that given the volume of applicants, a "significant number of people including sitting councillors" had not been successful.

"While the process is not yet fully completed we do not intend to give any further specific detail about individual applicants."

Luke Poots to stand down

Meanwhile, it has been reported that a DUP councillor who faced an investigation by a standards watchdog over an alleged conflict of interest is to leave politics.

Luke Poots, the son of a former DUP Stormont minister, will stand down from his position on Lisburn and Castlereagh Council ahead of the election.

He said opportunities outside of politics had arisen, but that he would remain a party member.

In a statement, he added: "I conveyed last week to my family that I did not intend to stand for election.

Image caption Luke Poots' father Edwin Poots (right) was a former health minister

"Since then we have discussed the matter several times and I have subsequently notified the party of my intentions."

Last year, Mr Poots faced questions for voting in favour of planning decisions lobbied for by his father, DUP MLA Edwin Poots.

Mr Poots denied any conflict of interest.

In summer 2018, he faced further questions about why a planning application to build three houses to replace his home was made in his mother's maiden name.

He denied doing anything improper.

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