While Ulster Unionist MLA Tom Elliott says he will be remaining on the blue benches of the Northern Ireland Assembly for the foreseeable future before he heads to the red benches of the House of Lords, there has been some speculation as to who may replace him in Stormont.

When asked if he will leave his Stormont seat he said: “I am there for the time being, all that has to be discussed.

“That has to be discussed with the association officers and the party leader, there is no urgency in any of that. You will not see anything happening in that in the short term.”

Mr. Elliott told this newspaper that becoming one of 19 new peers as part of Rishi Sunak’s dissolution honours was“a great honour”.

“An honour for the community, not just me. I look at it as it is for my community and my family. Whether that’s through politics, through my own family, through sport and football. It all is the same to me. I think it is something that recognises them as well.

“I always look at myself not as a professional politician but as an ordinary community person who was a farmer and a member of the security forces.

“I equally enjoy myself at home as I do in the football club, in the orange hall or church as I do at Westminster.”

Mr. Elliott’s political career began in the legacy Fermanagh District Council before he progressed to Stormont as an MLA, where he served as Ulster Unionist leader from 2010 to 2012. From 2015 to 2017, he served as the MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone and says he is looking forward to his return to Westminster.

“I feel privileged to be there.

“No matter what people think of those in London and Westminster not being interested in Northern Ireland, there are people interested in Northern Ireland I have found. You soon get to know people who have a level of interest in Northern Ireland and indeed Fermanagh South Tyrone.”

As for his title which had not been finalised when he spoke to this newspaper on Monday, he remained tight-lipped as he said: “I have had a couple of thoughts”.

Now that Stormont is on the cusp of entering a summer recess, it remains unlikely that a co-option will take place before September.”

The front-runner and likely replacement remains to be Diana Armstrong who last week ran as the general election candidate for the Ulster Unionists.

Mrs. Armstrong has served as a councillor for Erne North since 2016, there would be some degree of harmony as Mr. Elliott himself began his political career serving Erne North in the legacy Fermanagh District Council.

Given Mrs. Armstrong’s profile in the constituency since her election run, she remains the most likely candidate.

Former MLA Rosemary Barton could be eyeing a return to the Stormont chamber having served as an MLA from 2016 until 2022. Like Mr. Elliott and Mrs. Armstrong, she began her political career in the Erne North DEA serving in both the legacy Fermanagh Council and Fermanagh and Omagh District Council from 2011 to 2016.

When Mrs. Barton lost her MLA seat to running mate, Mr. Elliott in 2022, she was co-opted to replace Bert Wilson in the Mid Tyrone from 2022 to 2023 where she lost out on her seat to the DUP’s Shirley Hawkes.

Other contenders could be from the two local councils that fall under the boundaries of the constituency.

Councillor Meta Graham, a former vice chairperson of Mid Ulster District Council could also be a contender for the area. Ms. Graham is based in the Clogher Valley DEA and previously ran as the Ulster Unionist candidate for the Mid Ulster constituency in the 2022 Assembly elections. A longstanding party member, she is the Vice Chair of the South Tyrone Ulster Unionist Association.

Councillor Mark Ovens already makes regular trips to Stormont serving as a Special Advisor to the Health Minister, he is an active councillor for his ward of Erne West and some are suggesting Ovens who is a young man within the party might make a pragmatic replacement for Mr. Elliott.

It is understood that Mr. Ovens has ruled himself out of being selected as the next Ulster Unionist MLA for the constituency. 

However, considering the party currently has no women among its MLA team,  it is likely the Ulster Unionist Party may opt for a female candidate to replace Mr. Elliott.