Election shock as Harding fails to gain nomination

ONE of North Antrim's longest serving councillors, Helen Harding (right), has failed to gain nomination for this year's local council elections.

A selection meeting organised by the North Antrim Constituency Association of the Ulster Unionist Party in Carnlea Orange Hall last Thursday night opted, instead, for Mrs. Joan Baird-Hanna, a former chief officer with the Northern Ireland Housing Executive who will stand in Ballycastle Town ward.

There was a general feeling of disappointment for Councillor Harding who was present at the meeting. One source said: "You could say there was some sympathy for Helen. She has always worked hard for the party and we are grateful for her contribution down the years, but we have every faith in our new candidate."

Records show that Councillor Harding was first elected in 1993 gaining 186 votes and ending the last of those winning a seat.

In 1997 she came fourth with 283 votes and in 2001 her standing soared with 379 votes behind the poll-topper, Madeline Black, who gained 429 seats. There were nine candidates that year.

In 2005 she was one of eight candidates and finished a respectable third with 323 votes behind Madeline Black and Cara McShane who topped the poll with 545 votes.

Councillor Harding has been and still is a hard-working councillor who served on many of the council committees including the now defunct Road Safety Committee and the Twinning Association.

As chairman of the council in 1999 she travelled to France for the formal signing of the twinning arrangement with Pourrieres.

At the meeting, candidates were chosen for the council areas including Ballymena, Ballymoney and Moyle.

In Moyle, Mrs. Baird Hanna will be joined by just two other runners - sitting member, Willie Graham and Sandra Hunter who is well known in local farming circles and who will stand in the Causeway area. The party have no plans to contest the Glens ward, it is understood.

In Ballymoney, the party will be represented by Stephen Phillips and David Traill in the Bann Valley ward and Bill Kennedy, the present Mayor, and Willie Johnston, a former councillor, in the Bushvale ward.

Sitting members, Tom McKeown and James Simpson, will contest the town ward.

Commenting on the situation, Cllr. Harding said she was not that disappointed.

"I had been considering my position because last year was a bad one for me health wise.

"I have been elected on four occasions and always tried to serve my voters the best I could," she said.