The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) has denied “surrendering Londonderry” by not fielding Assembly candidates in Foyle.
The DUP has linked the move to Michael McGimpsey’s decision to shelve plans for a cancer unit in the city.
But the UUP said that the withdrawal of their prospective candidate, Terry Wright, had come too late for him to be replaced.
Mr McGimpsey’s decision prompted Mr. Wright to resign as UUP vice-chairman a fortnight ago, although he retained his membership of the party.
And, in the fall-out, the party’s Foyle Association claimed that it did not have time to replace Mr Wright who described the shelving of the project as “ill-advised and untimely and making my position untenable”.
Mr. Wright this week said he withdrew for health reasons. “The party is a victim of my circumstances, I had major heart surgery and my recovery hasn’t been as straight forward as it should have been, “ he said.
He admitted that members of the public had asked him if the row over the cancer centre had anything to do with his decision.
“There’s more to politics than health, I would have concerns about education in the local area and will continue to follow through with those,” he added.
The DUP, however, was trenchant in its criticism of the UUP’s decision to field no candidates.
A spokesperson claimed: “UUP have surrendered in Londonderry and this is symptomatic of the decline of the party. This surrender decision has been motivated by the utter terror at the prospect of facing the people of the city and the surrounding area following the despicable actions of Michael McGimpsey. Now, the Ulster Unionists haven’t the guts to face the people in a democratic election.”
But a UUP spokesman said that, while Mr Wright was their prospective candidate, in light of his resignation as vice-chairman of the party this was no longer feasible.
“We tried to find another candidate,” the spokesman insisted, adding that the party was not surrendering “as proven by the fact that we are running two candidates in the Derry City Council elections on the same day - Ronnie McKeegan and Mary Hamilton.”