Newtownabbey politicians praise outgoing UUP leader

Elected representatives have wished Steve Aiken MLA well after he announced he is to stand down as leader of the Ulster Unionist Party.

The South Antrim MLA, who took the reins of the UUP in November 2019, confirmed he is to resign from his role as leader during a press conference at Stormont today (Monday).

In a statement issued by the party on Saturday, a UUP spokesperson said: “Steve Aiken OBE MLA has written to Danny Kennedy, chairman of the Ulster Unionist Party, stating it is his intention to resign as leader of the UUP.”

In the correspondence to Mr Kennedy, Dr Aiken stated: “I believe I have taken our party as far as I can. To achieve our goals we now need new leadership.

Steve Aiken MLA. Picture By: Arthur Allison/ Pacemaker.
Steve Aiken MLA. Picture By: Arthur Allison/ Pacemaker.
Steve Aiken MLA. Picture By: Arthur Allison/ Pacemaker.

“Therefore, after due consideration, I would wish you to accept my resignation as party leader, effective from 10am on May 10.

“I will not be retiring from politics and I will be dedicating myself fully to support our new party leader, our party, but above all to the people of South Antrim.”

Politicians have extended well wishes to Dr Aiken in the wake of his announcement.

Speaking to this newspaper, the Mayor of Antrim and Newtownabbey, Councillor Jim Montgomery said: “Unionism is facing a challenge and the UUP as the party representing the interests of the public, need more than ever, to promote unionism and highlight to people the many positive reasons for being part of the United Kingdom.

“Steve commendably has recognised that a new leader of the party will be better placed to develop the positive message of unionism that we as a party must focus on.

“I work with him on constituency matters in South Antrim and I know his commitment to the area is reinvigorated and having met with him last week, he is totally focused on South Antrim going forward and how we develop the area post pandemic in the best interests of the people.”

THe Deputy Mayor of Antrim and Newtownabbey, Cllr Noreen McClelland paid tribute to Dr Aiken on Twitter.

The Glengormley SDLP representative said: “Wishing Steve well. He is a total gentleman, always helpful and has been a pleasure to work with in South Antrim.”

Mr Aiken, who attended The Thompson Primary School, Ballyrobert, and then Belfast High School, embarked on a 32-year career in the Royal Navy, serving as a submariner.

He worked latterly in Whitehall in public policy before becoming the founding CEO of the British Irish Chamber of Commerce.

Returning to live in Co Antrim and seeking a new challenge, Steve transitioned into politics. He was elected to the Northern Ireland Assembley in May 2016. He was re-elected in 2017.

Dr Aiken contested the General Election in the East Antrim constituency in December 2019, securing 5,475 votes. He finished third in the poll behind the DUP’s Sammy Wilson (16,871) and Cllr Danny Donnelly, Alliance (10,165).

Upper Bann MLA Doug Beattie and Lagan Valley MLA Robbie Butler have been tipped as possible replacements for Dr Aiken at the helm of the UUP.

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