Former UUP MLA Rosemary Barton tipped to replace retiring councillor in Co Tyrone

A former Ulster Unionist MLA has been tipped to replace a retiring councillor in Co Tyrone.

Rosemary Barton lost her seat in the Fermanagh and South Tyrone constituency in May’s Stormont Assembly election.

She is considered the front-runner to succeed UUP veteran Bert Wilson, who plans to step down from Fermanagh and Omagh District Council later this month.

Read more: Analysis: December Stormont Assembly election will only deepen divisions

It follows a number of other former MLAs being co-opted to councils in Northern Ireland since the Assembly poll.

Mr Wilson, a representative for the Mid Tyrone area, has been an Ulster Unionist councillor for 22 years.

The 82-year-old farmer previously served as chair of the old Omagh District Council and as vice-chair of the new Fermanagh and Omagh local authority.

UUP councillor Bert Wilson
UUP councillor Bert Wilson

Mr Wilson told Belfast Live: “The next council election will be on May 4 and on May 3, I will be 83, and I don’t think it would be sensible.

“I just decided that I hadn’t been in great health for a period back there – although I have picked up again and I’m reasonably good again – and that was really the reason why I decided to step down.”

Mr Wilson said he has “served the people of Mid Tyrone as best I could”, adding: “I’m sure I haven’t pleased everybody but I don’t think many people have complained about the service I have given to them.

“I was there 24 hours a day at the end of the phone and if they wanted something done I would have went and visited them.”

Asked whether Ms Barton would be his successor, he said: “Well that’s up to the party to decide, not me. I have heard rumours as well but I’m not commenting on that.”

But he said he would be “quite happy” if Ms Barton was co-opted to his council seat.

Last year Mr Wilson hit out at the UUP for “parachuting in” former Irish Seanad member Ian Marshall as their Stormont election candidate for West Tyrone.

The councillor said he is “not very happy with any of the parties at the minute” but he does not believe in “walking off” if there is a disagreement.

When asked about her potential co-option, Ms Barton said: “I will leave that as speculation at the moment.”

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MLAs in the Assembly chamber at Parliament Buildings, Stormont

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The former schoolteacher declined to say if she was interested in the councillor role.

The UUP has been approached for comment.

In August, former DUP MLA Mervyn Storey was co-opted by the party to Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council.

Mr Storey, who lost his North Antrim seat in May’s Assembly election, succeeded John Finlay as a councillor for Ballymoney after his death following a cancer diagnosis.

In May, DUP deputy leader Paula Bradley was selected as a councillor for the party after not seeking re-election to Stormont to spend more time caring for her elderly parents.

The former North Belfast MLA was co-opted to Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council to replace Phillip Brett, who succeeded her as an Assembly member.

The next council election is due to take place in May 2023.


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BelfastLive – Co Tyrone