DUP selects candidate to run in Jeffrey Donaldson’s former constituency of Lagan Valley

MLA Jonathan Buckley announced as nominee for UK general election by party leader Gavin Robinson

The DUP MLA Jonathan Buckley is to stand as the party’s candidate in Jeffrey Donaldson’s former constituency of Lagan Valley in the UK general election.

The party leader, Gavin Robinson, announced Mr Buckley’s nomination at a press conference at DUP headquarters on Friday afternoon.

A former DUP councillor in Portadown, Mr Buckley was first elected to the Assembly as an MLA for the neighbouring constituency of Upper Bann in 2017; at the time he was its youngest MLA, aged 26.

He told reporters he was running because he was “putting country first” and “to ensure that the pro-Union voters can unite behind a candidate and ensure that Lagan Valley has strong representation at Westminster”.

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The MP for Lagan Valley since 1997, Mr Donaldson – who became DUP leader in 2021 - was suspended from the party in March after he was charged with historical sexual offences – charges he denies.

Speaking earlier this week before the election was called, his solicitor, John McBurney, confirmed his client would not seek re-election as an MP.

Mr Robinson said he would make further announcements as to the DUP’s remaining candidates “early next week” but he could confirm all of the party’s outgoing MPs would stand again.

He also appealed for “unionist co-operation”, saying there were “several seats” where the party believed there were “significant opportunities to return unionist members of parliament.

“We believe in unionist co-operation and will continue to work actively in the next few days with other unionists to see whether it might be possible to maximise representation for unionism,” he said.

The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) has already said its Lagan Valley MLA, Robbie Butler, will be its candidate in the constituency.

“Game on,” the UUP leader Doug Beattie said on social media, describing Mr Butler as “an exceptional local candidate. The dial has just shifted.”

The Alliance MLA Sorcha Eastwood, who came second to Mr Donaldson by around 6,500 votes in the last Westminster election in 2019, is expected to be a strong contender for the seat.

During the DUP press conference, Mr Robinson also announced the DUP councillor Tracy Kelly will be the party’s candidate in Belfast South and Mid Down.

Ms Kelly currently represents the Botanic area of South Belfast on Belfast City Council.

In 2019, Emma Little-Pengelly – who is now Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister – was the DUP candidate in South Belfast, as the constituency was known before recent boundary changes. She came second, more than 15,000 votes behind Claire Hanna of the SDLP.

Addressing speculation that Ms Little-Pengelly or the Minister for Education, Paul Givan, might have been selected to stand in Lagan Valley, Mr Robinson said Ms Little-Pengelly would “continue to provide leadership in the role of deputy first minister for Northern Ireland.

“She will be providing Northern Ireland and the Executive with continuity and stability in the restored institutions at this time,” he said.

Mr Robinson added that Mr Givan had made a “significant contribution to our team” as Minister for Education and would continue to do so.

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