Jonathan Bell to stand as independent in Assembly elections

Outgoing Sinn Féin MLA backs protest over failure to implement Irish language strategy

Jonathan Bell whose "cash for ash" allegations helped trigger the political crisis in Northern Ireland is to face his former DUP colleagues in the Assembly election.

Mr Bell announced on Tuesday that he would stand as an independent in the Strangford constituency where he was one of three DUP candidates to win seats last May.

The suspended DUP member had accused some party special advisers of delaying the closing-down of the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme which ultimately could cost Northern Ireland taxpayers up to £490 million (€573 million).

The DUP denied the claims while former first minister Arlene Foster accused Mr Bell of mishandling the issue when he was minister for investment, trade and enterprise.


Mr Bell told The Nolan Show on BBC Radio Ulster that "it was time for truth" and he would be standing as an independent.

“Political life has been corrupted by spin, political life has been corrupted by deceit,” he said.

“Was I right to do what I did? Was I right to shine a light on “cash for ash”? Was I right to follow Dr Paisley’s advice and, ‘Tell the truth should the heavens fall’? I believe I was.”

‘Honest politics’

Mr Bell said he had been asked by people from both the unionist and nationalist traditions to stand in Strangford. He said he wanted to “set a tone for more honest politics”.

Asked would he encourage unionists to transfer to the DUP, he said he would urge unionists to transfer to “pro-union parties”.

“Let people make their own selection. I am telling them to vote for pro-union candidates,” he said.

The DUP won three seats in Strangford in last May's Assembly election and it is running three candidates again. All three are Ministers: Simon Hamilton, Michelle McIlveen and Peter Weir, who has moved from the North Down constituency.

While all DUP activists are likely to be under pressure to disavow Mr Bell, his sister-in-law Pamela Barr, who is a DUP councillor on Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council, said she supported him "100 per cent". She also reposted a number of tweets about his candidacy.

Legal case

Meanwhile, outgoing Sinn Féin West Belfast MLA Pat Sheehan has urged support for a protest at Laganside courts in Belfast where a member of the public is taking a legal case against the Executive for failing to implement an Irish language strategy.

As the row rumbles on over Ms Foster’s insistence that her party would never accede to an Irish language act, Mr Sheehan said there was considerable anger in the Irish language community about the “DUP’s lack of respect for the Irish language”.

Sinn Féin, in particular, decried how Ms Foster, in relation to the party’s demands, said: “If you feed the crocodile, it will keep coming back and looking for more.”

Keeping the focus on the issue Mr Sheehan said: “The DUP have continually shown disrespect to the Irish language and identity and have held up progress on both an Irish language strategy and an Irish language act. The Irish language threatens no one and is for everyone in our society.”

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times