John McCallister concedes in South Down, but says he has no regrets

John McCallister at the election count
John McCallister at the election count

Independent unionist John McCallister has conceded that he has lost his South Down seat - but said he still has no regrets about resigning from the Ulster Unionist Party.

The former Ulster Unionist deputy leader was always going to struggle to get back to Stormont without a party machine behind him in a constituency where there are just two unionist seats.

John McCallister with Margaret Ritchie

John McCallister with Margaret Ritchie

But Mr McCallister appears to have suffered from an unexpected surge for Alliance candidate Patrick Brown who is expected to be around 500 votes ahead of Mr McCallister’s likely first preference tally of 1,500 votes.

It is not yet clear whether the final unionist seat will go to the Ulster Unionists or the TUV after the DUP’s Jim Wells is comfortably elected.

The independent unionist’s great achievement came just weeks ago when he secured the passage of the bill which creates the structures for a formal Opposition at Stormont for the first time since 1972.

Speaking to the News Letter from the count centre in Lisburn, Mr McCallister said he was disappointed, but that he had done his best during the campaign.

John McCallister, outside Stormont

John McCallister, outside Stormont

“It’s not going well for me; I accept that it’s not going to happen today,” he said.

“All the campaign team have worked as hard as anyone, but it’s just not happening.

“Of course I’m disappointed.

“But I can look back at nine years in the Assembly, two private members bills and like to think that I’ve made a small contribution to politics.”

Mr McCallister would have been almost guaranteed his seat had he stayed in the UUP.

When asked if he now regretted leaving the party over its decision to enter an electoral agreement with the DUP, he said: “I don’t, because when I gave that up the point was to say that you should not be going into sectarian tribal political.

“Therefore you should not be doing deals, but acting as a stand alone party and go into opposition if you don’t get the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister in the Assembly election.

“Be your own party and canvass for your own ideas rather than doing a deal to get an easy victory here or there.

“Of course it would have been an easy option to just have kept my mouth shut, but I prefer to do what I believe in rather than taking the easy option.”