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Friday, 22 September, 2000, 03:12 GMT 04:12 UK
The gospel-singing MP
William McCrea
William McCrea: New album out next month
Democratic Unionist William McCrea has a political career spanning three decades - and 27 albums as a gospel singer on the side.

His gospel singing career continues with a new album due for release next month entitled I Pledge Allegiance.

His political career has lasted for 32 years so far.

Born in Stewartstown, County Tyrone, on 6 August 1948, Mr McCrea first became involved with the DUP after a protest rally in Armagh in 1968.

Party leader Ian Paisley had been imprisoned for six weeks for staging an illegal demonstration against a Catholic civil rights march in the town.

Mr Paisley's wife Eileen spoke at the rally, convincing the young Mr McCrea to join the Armagh Free Presbyterian congregation.

His skills as a gospel singer were soon put to good use - making a huge impact on the 1,000 people who attended a mission organised by Mr Paisley in Dungannon, County Tyrone.

Senior figure

He was ordained as a Free Presbyterian minister and joined a number of young clergymen, some of whom followed their leader into unionist politics.

Mr McCrea was a senior figure in the DUP, symbolising the party's Free Presbyterian wing.

He was voted on to Magherafelt District Council in 1973, and was chairman between 1977 and 1981 and in 1997.

In March 1982, he contested the Belfast South by-election after the shooting of Ulster Unionist the Reverend Robert Bradford but came third behind the Alliance Party.

A year later he took the Mid Ulster seat in the 1983 general election, seeing off Sinn Fein by just 78 votes.

He is known as an uncompromising critic of republicanism and opponent of power-sharing.

In July 1994, his Magherafelt home was raked with gunfire with a total of 40 shots. No-one was injured.

But his decision to share a platform with dissident loyalist Billy Wright at a rally in Portadown in September 1996 caused the biggest controversy of his political career.

Ousted

Mr Wright, who had broken away from the Ulster Volunteer Force to form the Loyalist Volunteer Force, was defying a death threat from his former comrades.

Mr McCrea was ousted as Mid Ulster's MP in 1997 by Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness by 1,883 votes.

He officiated at the funeral of Billy Wright in Portadown that year after the LVF leader was gunned down by the Irish National Liberation Army in the Maze Prison.

There was speculation that Mr McCrea would challenge David Trimble for his seat in Upper Bann.

But despite winning an Assembly seat in Mid Ulster in 1998, it soon became apparent his eyes were on South Antrim.

The death of Ulster Unionist Clifford Forsythe in April presented him with the chance to return to Westminster.

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