Co-opt Calvert? No, we'd rather finish our tea!

IT was supposed to be the moment David Calvert made his long-awaited return to Craigavon Borough Council. Instead it was an embarrassing snub.

If the firebrand former DUP man was looking forward to getting back into the council chamber, it seems that the borough’s councillors failed to share his enthusiasm.

Just five members turned up for a special meeting to consider the TUV man’s co-option onto the council on Monday - seven are required for a ‘quorum’.

Perhaps most tellingly, five of the absent councillors preferred to enjoy a buffet tea in an adjacent room at the civic centre rather than attend the meeting.

It started at 5pm and lasted for 15 minutes before being adjourned without a decision. But when the council’s main mid-monthly meeting got under way at six o’ clock, 15 members were in the council chamber.

The choice was either to co-opt Mr Calvert or object, thus forcing a by-election for the seat vacated by Lurgan representative Mark Russell, the sole TUV councillor.

Independent member David Jones had agreed to nominate Calvert for co-option, and the five members waited for the statutory 15 minutes, after which the meeting was adjourned.

A by-election would cost between 25,000 and 30,000, and if the decision isn’t made by November 11 (42 days after Mr Russell resigned) a poll will be called by default.

Inside the meeting were Mayor Meta Crozier, Councillor Jones, George Savage, Samuel Gardiner (both UUP) and Sinn Fein’s Maurice Magill.

And in the adjacent room having tea were Arnold Hatch, Kenneth Twyble (both UUP), Mairead O’Dowd, Brian McKeown and Noel McGeown (all SF).

None of the council’s eight DUP members turned up, even though they had an agreement with the TUV over a co-option, while SDLP members also stayed away.

It all took an even more bizarre touch on Tuesday when Mr Calvert refused to confirm or deny that he was, in fact, the TUV choice. But Mr Jones confirmed, “Mark Russell rang me on Monday afternoon at three o’ clock to tell me David Calvert was their choice.

“I’d promised to propose him, but it seems nobody wants to second the name of David Calvert. If that’s the case, why don’t they go for a by-election and stop this silly nonsense.”

The council will be setting up a second meeting - probably on November 2 - and the Portadown Times understands there could be a similar quorum scenario unless Calvert is replaced by the TUV.

Mr Twyble, the leader of the UUP group , said, “We realise there will be difficulty in getting someone to second the name of David Calvert, so we stayed out.”

Stephen Moutray, DUP group leader, commented, “We made an agreement with the TUV that we wouldn’t oppose a co-option and we have stood by that.”

SDLP’s Delores Kelly said, “None of our members were available through personal reasons.”

And a spokesman for Sinn Fein commented, “It’s a matter for the unionists. We simply aren’t interested.”

Mr Calvert said, “The DUP, Sinn Fein and the SDLP all have had co-options recently and I can’t understand this nonsense. If they don’t want to co-opt a TUV representative, then let them go for a by-election and show some backbone.”

He repeatedly refused to say whether he was, in fact, the candidate, and added, “The TUV candidate was selected on the first count with more than 50 per cent support. It’s up to our party - not up to other parties - to select who we want.”

The council’s chief executive Michael Docherty confirmed that if the vacancy was not filled within the 14-42 day time scale, a by-election would be called.

“We are looking into all the legal aspects,” he added. “A second meeting is likely, but the date has still to be determined.”

The TUV are split over the issue, and there may be moves to select another candidate.

Sources in both the main unionist parties claimed that if the TUV chose someone else, they would go with a co-option, but Mr Calvert reaffirmed, “The choice is up to the TUV.”

The Portadown Times understands there were three names in the hat for the TUV nomination - one stood down and it was a straight fight between Mr Calvert and Upper Bann secretary Jonathan Johns, with Mr Calvert winning narrowly.