December 3, 2023

With the Ulster Unionists gunning for a surge in votes in next week’s election, the party has a host of hopefuls trying to secure an Assembly seat for the first time. Here’s a look at a few of the names making their debut on a Stormont ballot paper.

ill Macauley (South Down) is a business owner and was first elected to Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough council in 2019. She is the chair of the council’s policing and community safety partnership.

Ms Macauley was also part of a campaign calling for free period products to be provided in council buildings.

She recently spoke at an anti-Protocol rally, calling for unionist parties to unite to find solutions to the Brexit issues around the Protocol.

Naomi McBurney (North Down) studies social policy at Ulster University and first became involved with the UUP when she established the #bringitbacktoprimary campaign, which is calling for transfer tests to be brought back to the classroom.

She founded the Parent Engagement Group with mental health campaigner Lindsay Robinson and they are opposing the rising cost of school uniforms.

Election newcomer Bethany Ferris (North Antrim) studied theology at the Union Theological College and previously worked in the health and social care sector, helping people with mental health issues, learning disabilities and autism.

Since then, she has taken up a role as an advocate for innocent victims of the Troubles.

Former soldier Ryan McCready (Foyle) served as a DUP councillor on Derry City and Strabane District Council before leaving the party over the removal of Arlene Foster and subsequently joining the UUP. He has been active on social media, hoping to get more young unionists involved in politics.

Coming from a working-class Catholic background, Stephen McCarthy (South Belfast) joined the UUP aged 19 and hopes to appeal to the young, progressive unionist electorate.

He holds a degree in journalism and currently manages party leader Doug Beattie’s constituency office. He previously served on Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council for two years before he lost his seat in 2019. Mr McCarthy supported same-sex marriage and abortion reform and describes his political leanings as left-of-centre.

Lauren Kerr is hoping to become East Belfast’s first openly gay female MLA.

She has been involved in politics for 15 years and started working in the UUP’s press office during the 2011 Assembly election.

She has been vocal about supporting the implementation of universal sex and relationships education in Northern Ireland, as well as on LGBT issues.

Previously serving as a PUP councillor in Belfast for several years, Julie-Anne Corr-Johnston joined the UUP in June of last year and serves as the party’s North Belfast representative.

Like Lauren Kerr, Ms Corr-Johnston is openly gay and she is also a pro-choice feminist.

She has been vocal about tackling deprivation, suicide and lack of social housing in the constituency.

Linsey Gibson (West Belfast) was not a UUP member until recently. However, she says party leader Doug Beattie’s ‘Union of the People’ ethos made her take the plunge.

An avid runner, she works as a teacher in Carrickfergus, specialising in a range of subjects, including religion, citizenship and maths. She has been vocal about education and, in particular, tackling mental health issues young people may be struggling with. Ms Gibson has called on each school to have a dedicated counsellor on site for pupils.

Darryl Wilson (East Londonderry) has served on Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council since 2014, topping the poll in the Ballymoney ward in 2019 with 16.23% of the first-preference votes. He previous served as deputy Lord Mayor of the council and worked for a local site investigation firm for more than a decade, before starting his own mobile catering business.

During his time on the council, he supported plans to erect a memorial to LGBTQ campaigner Mark Ashton and has been vocal on issues such as economic development and environmental protection.


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