North Antrim UUP aiming for two Assembly seats

The Ulster Unionist Party in North Antrim is aiming to take two Assembly seats in the May Stormont election, the Association annual meeting has been told.

The party's Employment and Learning Minister and Newry and Armagh MLA Danny Kennedy said he wanted the UUP to emerge from the Stormont poll with seats for prospective candidates Robin Swann and Bill Kennedy.

Mr Swann is North Antrim UUP Chairman while Bill Kennedy is Mayor of Ballymoney. UUP members travelled from a cross North Antrim to attend the meeting in Carnlea Orange Hall, near Ballymena.

Chairing the AGM, which was well attended, Mr Swann emphasized how honoured he has been to serve as Chairman for North Antrim UUP Association for the last 10 months.

In his chairman's address, Mr Swann added: "After our AGM last year, we went into full campaign mode for the Westminster Election, and I acknowledge and thank the Ulster Unionist members of North Antrim who came out and worked for and canvassed for Irwin Armstrong, the North Antrim UCUNF candidate.

"There were a number of fundraising events over the year, starting with a dinner where we had Mike Nesbitt, UUP Westminster Candidate and former Victims Commissioner as our guest speaker for what was a very enjoyable and profitable night.

"In October, there was an excellent Gospel concert in Bushmills, which again was well attended and our annual barbeque in Clough Masonic Hall was its usual crowd-puller. In November, we organised an open debate on education, where we were able to bring together an excellent panel which was surpassed by an excellent debate on the evening.

"We had our Party Spokesman on Education Basil McCrea MLA giving a great contribution, along with Ronnie Hassard, Principal of Ballymena Academy; Barbara Ward, Principal of Cross and Passion in Ballycastle; John Platt, Principal of Millburn Primary School, Coleraine and Gordon Topping, former Chief Executive of the North Eastern Education and Library Board.

"I believe that North Antrim members truly played their part in the recent leadership contest of the Party, where we hosted our own well natured and well attended leader's debate between Basil McCrea and Tom Elliott in Carnlea Orange Hall, with a large number of members then travelling to Belfast for the contest itself.

"And since Tom's election as leader, he has been no stranger to North Antrim, having been guest speaker at both Ahoghill and Ballintoy and Croaghmore's AGMs, as well as meeting with Bob Richmond, chairman of Collective Objectors Against Lignite to view the area of North Antrim that would be devastated if the proposed lignite mine in the Ballymoney area was allowed to go ahead.

"We have also had a number of visits of the past few months from senior Party members, including Jim Nicholson, our MEP who has visited the constituency three times, with visits to Ballymena Market, Cllr Robin Cherry's Pak Cho enterprise, QuickTag in Ballycastle and recently Moy Park's new facility in Ballymena, where Rose Energy was one of the items in discussion.

"Sir Reg Empey, then Party Leader and Minister of Employment and Learning, made a visit to a number of locations in Ballycastle at the invitation of Cllr William Graham. And of course we are privileged to have Danny Kennedy, the current Minister of Employment and Learning.

"I thank all our elected representatives for the help and the positive profile they have given to the Ulster Unionist Party in North Antrim, and a special thanks to our councillors and their commitment.

"In the past year, we saw Ald William McNeilly achieve the position of Deputy Mayor of Ballymena and I congratulate him on the way he has performed in that office, and also earlier in the year we had quite a coop when Bill Kennedy, an independent councillor in Ballymoney who shortly after being elected Mayor, became a member of the Ulster Unionist Party, and it almost feels now that he has always been a member.

"The reason that any political party exists is to win elections and to that extent we have been preparing for the forthcoming Assembly and council elections in May, and after our selection meeting, we now have all our candidates selected and are eager to get on the doors.

"I congratulate those selected and wish them well. It won't be easy, but we are well prepared but have a lot of work ahead of us! I pay tribute to all those who stood for selection, but were unsuccessful. Their interest and support of this Party should not go unnoticed or be underestimated.

"I thank my officer team for their hard work and dedication over the year. I thank all our members for coming out and supporting all these events, and for all the work you do day and daily for our Party. We have an opportunity in May to start and turn the tables back towards the Ulster Unionist Party!

"On behalf of the North Antrim Association and personally, I thank Rev Dr Robert Coulter MBE MLA for his years of dedication and service to the Party at all levels throughout his career

"And as he retires from the Assembly, I can only hope and pray that we will be able to avail of his vast knowledge and experience of the political field in North Antrim and wider a field in the future, and that when Bill and I are both returned in May that we can represent the constituency as well as he has.

"It was only right that his contribution towards politics in North Antrim was recognised by the Palace when he was awarded the MBE last year," said Mr Swann.

Election of officers results: Chairman, Robin Swann; Vice Chairman, William Graham; President, Joe Gaston; Treasurer, Roy McClean; Secretary, Neill Armstrong; Election Officers, James McClean and Derek Torrens; Press Officer, Jacqui McVicker; Fundraising Officer, Lexi Scott.