Former DUP leader Edwin Poots has failed in a bid to switch constituencies in the forthcoming Northern Ireland Assembly elections.
Mr Poots, a current Lagan Valley MLA, had tried to secure a seat in the South Down constituency and was interviewed by party officers as part of the selection process on Friday evening, along with another candidate, Diane Forsythe.
In a statement following the interview process, a DUP spokesperson confirmed that Ms Forsythe would go forward as the party’s preferred candidate.
They said: “The Democratic Unionist Party this evening selected Diane Forsythe to stand as the candidate for the party in the South Down constituency in the forthcoming Assembly election in May.
“The party is continuing with its selection processes and all selected candidates are subject to ratification by the Party Executive.”
Ms Forsythe is a former Westminster election candidate for the DUP and the daughter of a party councillor, Glyn Hanna.
Mr Poots arrived at Dundela House, the DUP party headquarters in East Belfast, just before 6pm.
Mr Poots left shortly before 8pm without speaking to the media.
The meeting at DUP headquarters was attended by a number of party representatives, including leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson and East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell.
The decision not to select him as a candidate is the latest major blow to the political career of Mr Poots, who endured a brief and fractious spell as party leader last year following a coup against Arlene Foster.
Mr Poots was forced to quit last summer after only a matter of weeks as leader, when faced with a revolt from within his own party.
While the Lagan Valley MLA remains as agriculture minister, the decision by DUP headquarters creates fresh questions about the direction of his political career.
The party currently holds two seats in the Lagan Valley constituency, belonging to Mr Poots and Stormont First Minister Paul Givan.
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has signalled his intention to return to the Northern Ireland Assembly and is also expected to be a candidate in Lagan Valley.
Ms Foster was quick to send her congratulations to Ms Forsythe on Friday.
The former party leader tweeted: “So delighted for and proud of this woman.
“Now for hard yards for which you are more than capable.”
— Arlene Foster #ProudofNI. (@ArleneFosterUK) January 28, 2022
The veteran current DUP MLA for South Down, Jim Wells, was not selected as a candidate for May’s elections.
In a statement, the party paid tribute to Mr Wells for “his long and distinguished service to both the party and the wider cause of Unionism over the last forty years”.
Mr Donaldson had an “amicable and constructive meeting” with Mr Wells on Friday afternoon.
Mr Donaldson said: “I have known Jim Wells for well over 35 years and have always admired his commitment to the Unionist cause. Jim has served his constituents in South Down faithfully.
“He has given a lifetime of public service and I look forward to seeing him making a further contribution to the party in the future.”
DUP chairman Lord Morrow said: “I want to pay tribute to Jim for his long and distinguished career in politics. I remember in the early days when Jim raised funds for the party and his enthusiasm for the Union inspired many around him.
“He was never a half measure man in anything that he put his hand to.”
Ahead of Friday evening, there had been concerns that the South Down contest between Mr Poots and Ms Forsythe could risk reopening divisions within the party from last year.
After Mr Poots was elected DUP leader last May, several members in the South Down constituency quit the party amid claims of a “purge” against those opposed to his leadership.
Ms Forsythe, her father Mr Hanna, and another councillor, Kathryn Owen, were among those who left the party amid allegations of sexism and bullying.
However, Mr Poots’ leadership was to last only three weeks before an internal party revolt forced him to quit.
After Mr Donaldson replaced him as leader, Ms Forsythe, Mr Hanna and Ms Owen returned to the party.