The top candidate to become the new leader of the Ulster Unionist Party in Northern Ireland, Doug Beattie, has said he will inquire if the party wants him to succeed him.
The upper bann MLA and military veteran has been widely linked to the job since Steve Aiken announced his resignation on Saturday.
That move, which came just 10 days after DUP leader Arlene Foster resigned following an internal party push against her, has thrown political unionism into further turmoil.
Mr. Aiken’s departure announcement was also prompted by growing discontent within the party over his leadership.
At a press conference Monday to officially announce Mr. Aiken’s resignation, Mr. Beattie said there had been much speculation about who would succeed him.
Said I will explore whether the party wants me as chairman and whether it wants me to lead it, and I will make a decision.”
Also appearing at the press conference was Lagan Valley MLA and former firefighter Robbie Butler, who has also been linked to a run for party chairman.
But Mr. Butler declined to comment on his intentions and instead gave credit to Steve Aiken’s leadership.
In submitting his resignation, South Antrim MLA Steve Aiken, a former submarine commander, said he was “aware of his limitations.”
He said, “I’ve made this difficult decision because unionism and those in Northern Ireland who believe in the union need a clear political voice more than ever.”
He said the UUP has delivered for the people of Northern Ireland, but added: “However, I am self-aware enough to recognize that our party, despite our strengths, is not making the breakthrough – I am also aware of my limitations, and despite the successes of the last 19 months, it is clear to me that a change in leadership is needed.”
Mr. Aiken said he will remain in office until a successor is found.
In his further statement, Mr. Aiken said there is a place for a “strong, progressive and inclusive” unionist party in Northern Ireland.
He added, “That party is the Ulster Unionist Party. Our party has worked for the people of Northern Ireland for many years and continues to do what is right in the centenary year of Northern Ireland – not just for unionists, but for everyone.
“If anyone doubts our credo of country over party, look at how we took on the health portfolio when everyone else was avoiding it – and I think we’re all lucky, not just for our excellent health experts, but for the inspired leadership of Robin Swann.”
He added, “Having held many leadership positions, I know and recognize the critical point at which change is needed, for the greater good and for a revival of the struggle, and that time is now.”
Ulster Unionist leader Danny Kennedy said the leadership change in the party would not be accomplished in the same way as in the DUP.
He said, “For us, there’s not the nastiness of leadership changes done in dark corners, like the DUP removing Arlene Foster, who frankly deserved better.”