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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 October 2006, 07:55 GMT 08:55 UK
Vote to replace shamed ex-mayor
Dessie Stewart
Dessie Stewart as he arrived at the court on Tuesday
Voters in the Coleraine district represented by disgraced former DUP councillor Dessie Stewart face a by-election to replace him.

Stewart, who admitted electoral fraud, resigned from the council and his party. On his way to court on Tuesday he punched a press photographer.

A proposal to co-opt a new councillor was rejected at a meeting of Coleraine council on Tuesday.

An election in the Skerries area is now likely to take place on 13 December.

The SDLP proposed co-opting another councillor at the full council meeting, but Ulster Unionists rejected that plan.

The SDLP's John Dallat said the election would cost ratepayers about 15,000 and co-option would not have harmed local democracy.

"In the last assembly it was all co-option, there were no by-elections at all," he said.

"So I don't think it in any way undermines democracy to have a co-option, particularly when it is a council which is going to disappear in a couple of years time."

Vote difference

But Ulster Unionist councillor David McClarty said that they may have been deprived of victory through Stewart's fraudulent activities in 2005.

"There were five votes between our candidate and Barney Fitzpatrick (the Alliance candidate who polled behind Stewart) on the basis that there were six votes which have been admitted were used illegally those votes may have gone to our candidate," he said.

East Londonderry Alliance Association Chair Paddy McGowan said that their candidate should have been co-opted.

"In any sporting event, if the winner is disqualified, the runner-up takes the prize," he said.

"Why are Unionists scared of letting Barney Fitzpatrick take the prize that he deserves?"

The DUP's Adrian McQuillan said that his party would contest the seat, and added that in the eyes of some people Stewart's actions may have damaged the party.

"Dessie was foolish in what he done but I think we should leave Dessie alone now to get on with his life and try and rebuild.

"After these past few weeks he has been under a lot of pressure and I think it's important that we leave him alone to get his life back together."

'People's choice'

Sinn Fein's Billy Leonard said that going back to the electorate was the right decison.

"We will go back to the people and I think the people in one sense deserve to have that say because the previous say was totally and utterly torn apart," he said.

Dessie Stewart admitted electoral fraud during the 2005 elections and was to be sentenced at Antrim Crown Court on Tuesday.

When Stewart arrived at the court he threw a punch at Press Association photographer Niall Carson.

Mr Carson said he did not know why he was singled out. "He lunged at me and when I turned to walk away he punched me on the back of the head," he said.

Sentencing was put back until 17 November because of what the judge said were outstanding factual issues which needed to be resolved.


SEE ALSO
Former mayor attacks photographer
24 Oct 06 |  Northern Ireland
DUP to probe ex-mayor vote fraud
27 Sep 06 |  Northern Ireland

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