Swann to be appointed UUP leader

New UUP leader Robin Swann and party workers celebrate his election as North Antrim MLA last month
New UUP leader Robin Swann and party workers celebrate his election as North Antrim MLA last month

Robin Swann is to be appointed the new leader of the UUP today, and is expected to take the party in a more traditional direction following its disastrous election result.

Mr Swann, the party’s chief whip at Stormont, will formally be ratified as the 16th Ulster Unionist leader in its 112-year history at the party’s annual general meeting in Belfast this morning.

The North Antrim MLA was the only person to put his name forward to succeed Mike Nesbitt.

Mr Nesbitt has been leader for five years but resigned immediately in the wake of last month’s deeply disappointing Assembly election result for the party.

The UUP is now the fourth biggest party in the Assembly, having been overtaken by the SDLP for the first time.

Mr Swann is a member of the loyal orders and is steeped in the history of the UUP. He is also a past president of the Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster.

The UUP yesterday told the News Letter that Mr Swann would not be available for interview ahead of his appointment.

However, a number of party members have spoken highly of Mr Swann’s abilities and wished him well.

Paying tribute to the incoming leader, Upper Bann MLA Doug Beattie: “Robin is a strong, intelligent and forward-looking unionist who has the full support of the party and someone we think can progress the party over the coming years.”

Last month, in the wake of Mr Nesbitt’s resignation, Mr Beattie told the News Letter he would consider putting his name forward for the leadership contest “if the party comes calling”.

However, yesterday Mr Beattie – who is seen as being on the more liberal wing of the party– said he felt Mr Swann was “the right man for the job”.

The former Royal Irish Regiment captain, who won the Military Cross for acts of outstanding bravery during the Afghan War, added: “It is important we have someone who commands the respect of the entire Ulster Unionist family and who understands the nuances of the Assembly and politics.

“Robin has the experience, commitment and professionalism to lead the party forward.”

South Antrim MP Danny Kinahan said he had “great faith” in Mr Swann’s leadership ability.

He added: “Robin is an optimist who is greatly committed and able to listen to all angles of the party.

“It was sad to see Mike go, he gave us his best. Robin is coming in at a difficult time but I look forward to seeing Robin as leader.”

Fermanagh and South Tyrone MP Tom Elliott also wished the incoming leader well, adding: “Robin has been extremely active and on top of things for quite some time and I am sure he will do a good job.”

Mr Swann, a former pupil of Ballymena Academy, has been an MLA since 2011, something which makes him one of the UUP’s most experienced MLAs.

He chaired the Public Accounts Committee over recent months, leading the committee’s inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal.