Lady Sylvia Hermon announces she will not seek re-election in North Down

DUP MP David Simpson apologises for affair and says he will not contest election

  Lady Sylvia Hermon has announced that she is not to seek re-election in North Down, a seat she has held for 18 years. File photograph: Stephen Davison

Lady Sylvia Hermon has announced that she is not to seek re-election in North Down, a seat she has held for 18 years. File photograph: Stephen Davison

 

Outgoing independent unionist MP Lady Sylvia Hermon has announced that she is not to seek re-election in North Down, a seat she has held for 18 years.

Lady Hermon, who is 64, first won the North Down seat from Robert McCartney in 2001.

She successfully defended the seat in four subsequent elections, first as an Ulster Unionist Party MP, but from 2010 as an independent unionist. She broke her links with the UUP in 2010 because of its decision the previous year to link up with the Tories through the ill-fated Ulster Conservatives and Unionists - New Force.

She said she was “profoundly grateful” to those who supported her and that it was with “enormous sadness” that she would not be standing again.

“Now however, my priorities for the next few years are to spend my time at home in Northern Ireland to see more of my family and to step back from the frontline of public life,” she added.

Lady Hermon, widow of the late RUC chief constable, Sir John Hermon, supported Remain in the 2016 Brexit referendum.

Her decision will make the North Down constituency a hotly contested electoral battle. In the 2017 general election Lady Hermon held the seat by 1,200 votes from the DUP’s Alex Easton.

Mr Easton appears certain to again contest the seat. His chief rivals could be UUP MLA Alan Chambers and Alliance MLA Stephen Farry.

The Northern Secretary Julian Smith said he was very sorry that Lady Hermon was stepping down. “Her integrity, passion and commitment to Northern Ireland have been outstanding,” he said.

Tributes

Tánaiste Simon Coveney paid tribute to Lady Hermon after she made her announcement. “She has been an extraordinary protector of the Good Friday Agreement through what has been a very divisive, difficult debate for unionists in the House of Commons,” he said.

Lady Hermon was someone he had got to know through the Brexit process and he had enormous respect for her.

Speaking during a Seanad debate on Brexit the Tánaiste said “she is a proud unionist but she is an intelligent, tough, fair, open MP who listens but who also isn’t afraid to challenge”.

He quipped that “I wouldn’t have spoken about her like this if she was standing because I’d probably be losing her votes by the bucket load”.

Fine Gael Seanad spokesman on Europe Neale Richmond said she was “often a lone voice representing the real concerns of so many people on this island and she’s a credit to every single person regardless of what political background they come from”.

Fine Gael Senator Frankie Feighan described her as a “voice of reason and I would hope that whoever gets her seat would be as balanced and measured as she has since she’s been an MP”.

He said “she’d fight her corner absolutely. She believed in the Union but has always been measured and reasonable and understood a different point of view”.

Extra-marital affair

Earlier the outgoing DUP MP for Upper Bann David Simpson announced he is not going to contest the Westminster general election in December.

The Upper Bann MP said many of his friends and colleagues had encouraged him to again contest the election. File photograph: David Sleator
The Upper Bann MP said many of his friends and colleagues had encouraged him to again contest the election. File photograph: David Sleator

Mr Simpson (60), in making a statement about his decision on Wednesday, referred to an extra-marital affair that was first reported in Northern Ireland last year. He has since reconciled with his wife.

Mr Simpson, who has held the seat since he won it from former Ulster Unionist Party first minister David Trimble in 2005, had a majority of almost 8,000 votes over Sinn Féin’s John O’Dowd in the last general election in 2017.

“In recent times it has been well publicised that I made a mistake that brought hurt to my wife and family as well as bringing heartache to another family,” he said on Wednesday.

“These were my mistakes and for them I am truly sorry. I have learned from my failings and my wife and children have given me a precious second chance and together we intend to look to the future together,” he added.

Mr Simpson said that many of his friends and colleagues had encouraged him to again contest the election. “But having served the people of Upper Bann for over fourteen years, I have decided not to do so and that this is the right time to pass the baton on,” he said.

The DUP leader Arlene Foster thanked Mr Simpson for his work. “His service has been characterised by dedication to the people who elected him and his business skills and experience were used to the benefit of Upper Bann,” she said.

“I wish him well as he takes a new direction in life and I know that he will continue to use his many talents to the benefit of the party and the wider Northern Ireland cause,” said Ms Foster.