LET BATTLE COMMENCE

THE battle lines are being drawn for what will now almost certainly be a Dromore by-election, but there could be trouble telling friend from foe.

At the weekend the UUP nominated Dromore woman Carol Black, of Lagan Valley MLA Basil McCrea's office, to fill the seat vacated by the recent resignation of Tyrone Howe; Banbridge Council meets tonight (Tuesday) to decide whether to allow her co-option or go to the polls.

However, the council's DUP grouping is already on record insisting it would oppose the co-option of any candidate other than veteran UUP councillor William Martin, who lost his seat to running-mate Mr. Howe at the last election, and it is understood group leader Councillor David Herron will throw down the gauntlet tonight.

In a twist to the tale, Mr. Martin has announced he is to resign from the Ulster Unionist Party and is carefully considering whether to stand for election as an independent candidate.

UUP in-fighting over Ms. Black's selection does not end there, another rival for the candidacy, Mr. Stephen Warke, of Upper Bann MLA George Savage's Banbridge office, challenging the validity of the selection meeting and claiming "an orchestrated attempt to prevent young people in the UUP from going forward".

The Leader understands that on grounds he contests Belfast man Mr. Warke was deemed ineligible as a candidate, having worked in Banbridge District for only nine months, rather than the required 12.

Nevertheless, Mr. Warke has also accused council chairman John Hanna of acting improperly by "attempting to influence the outcome of an internal selection meeting" to which he had not been invited and at which he had no speaking rights.

He levelled a similar accusation at Ms. Black's employer, Lagan Valley MLA Basil McCrea, who likewise, he said, had no right to attend, or speak at, the meeting.

In the DUP camp potential election candidates include Banbridge man Lyle Rea and Dromara man Paul Stewart - personal assistant to Lagan Valley MP and MLA Jeffrey Donaldson - who this week confirmed he would be seeking nomination in the event of a by-election and is understood to have the backing of a number of senior DUP stalwarts.

DUP Councillor Jim McElroy is also challenging Jim Allister's newly formed 'Traditional Unionist Voice' movement to field its own candidate, specifically TUV interim treasurer Brian Moorhead, a Loughbrickland man and former DUP member.

It is expected any by-election will be fast-tracked, with Dromore voters likely to be called out next month.