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no going back Ex-DUP MLA Alex Easton rubbishes rumours he will re-join party to scupper Sinn Fein

Alex Easton quit the party in July last year within hours of Sir Jeffrey Donaldson being elected unopposed as party leader.

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Former DUP MLA Alex Easton (PA)

Former DUP MLA Alex Easton (PA)

Former DUP MLA Alex Easton (PA)

Ex-DUP MLA Alex Easton has rubbished rumours he is considering re-joining the party to stop Sinn Fein becoming the largest party at Stormont.

As voting gets underway it is widely anticipated Sinn Fein will emerge as the largest party raising the prospect of Michelle O’Neill being nominated as First Minister.

Easton quit the party in July last year within hours of Sir Jeffrey Donaldson being elected unopposed as party leader.

There has been heightened speculation in recent days that he would consider a return to the ranks but speaking to the Sunday World he said it was not an option.

“I will not be returning to the DUP,” he said.

DUP strategists believe that despite opinion polls putting Sinn Fein well ahead the outcome could be much closer with some predicting the parties emerging with 24 seats each.

It was believed Easton had indicated that in such circumstances he would be open to a return.

“No that’s not going to happen, I’m committed to my own campaign and representing voters here.”

At the time of his resignation he cited a lack of support from the central party as the reason for his resignation and alleged senior party members had briefed against him.

Mr Easton said a "weight had been lifted" after he made his decision.

He also claimed DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson had made a "half hearted" attempt to convince him to return.

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He also said Donaldson also made it clear the DUP would field two candidates to run against him in the assembly election and if he "dared" to stand for Westminster the party would field a high profile candidate.

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DUP Leader Jeffrey Donaldson pictured earlier this week (Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker)

DUP Leader Jeffrey Donaldson pictured earlier this week (Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker)

DUP Leader Jeffrey Donaldson pictured earlier this week (Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker)

The party is fielding Stephen Dunne and Jennifer Gilmour but Easton, a popular local representative who was tipped to take the North Down seat in the last general election only to be pipped by the Alliance’s Stephen Farry, is strong favourite to top the poll.

The constituency has a long history of electing independents. Lady Sylvia Hermon, the late Jim Kilfedder and Robert McCartney all represented area at Westminster.

"I didn't get a chance to explain the reasons why I left and I didn't feel valued and part of the team and was just rolled out at elections," Mr Easton said at the time.

At the time of his resignation he said he would up ``for a chat’’ with the party should Sinn Fein be victorious.

He said if he was elected and that scenario arose he would act in the "best interest of his constituents and of the union".

A number of DUP party members in North Down also resigned in support of Mr Easton, including local councillor Wesley Irvine.

But on the eve of the election he slammed the door on a return.

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