A DUP councillor has claimed that the party has lost the ethos it had under Ian Paisley.
Bangor man John Montgomery, who today defected to UKIP less than two months ahead of the council elections, said that he had become increasingly disillusioned at the DUP’s “authoritarian” leadership style.
Mr Montgomery, who described himself as “traditional DUP”, added: “I think that the whole Paisley ethos that I was growing up in has changed.”
He added that he did not want to be critical of the DUP, given his long association with the party, but added: “You get to a point where you don’t quite recognise the people around you and the way they think. You need a fresh start for unionism and in this case it’s not just a local unionism, it’s a national unionism.”
UKIP leader Nigel Farage said: “This is great news as it is seen as further indications of UKIP building its support base in Northern Ireland as part of national politics”.
UKIP’s Northern Ireland chairman and its only other councillor in the Province, Henry Reilly, said: “John is a hard worker, respected for his constituency work and recognised widely for his contribution to local politics”.
Often those defecting do so after failing to be reselected by their current parties. However Mr Montgomery said that he had not put his name forward for selection and had not planned to stand again until recent weeks but was increasingly attracted to UKIP.
Mr Montgomery said that he was “quite an independent person”, something which had led to “difficulty with the local branch”.
“That is what has attracted me to UKIP because they tell me that they don’t have this sort of whip system so although I’m under the umbrella of UKIP, I’m quite at liberty to exactly represent the people as I feel they would want me to.”
He said that the DUP had an attitude of “you have to follow the leader” which “sometimes doesn’t work - and I’m talking locally here - because sometimes they’re just simply wrong”.
Mr Montgomery said that he had been one of those within the DUP who had opposed the Maze peace centre, even when the party was firmly behind the project.
He said: “The traditional DUP supporter isn’t going to support what was then seen as a shrine at the Maze. That is a fundamental consideration for a unionist of any description.”
In past elections, UKIP has struggled to make any impact in Northern Ireland outside of Mr Reilly’s considerable personal vote in Kilkeel.
When asked if he had a realistic expectation of being elected to the new North Down and Ards council, given how strong the DUP is in the north Down area, Mr Montgomery said that he believed his position was “quite strong” because a lot of those standing for the DUP were “unknowns” or were close to existing DUP councillors and had been coopted on as their replacements.
But a DUP spokesman said: “We have not received any letter of resignation from Mr Montgomery.
“The whip was removed from him for a period of time in 2012 and was restored before the close of that year.
“This had nothing to do with the Maze site. We will save Mr Montgomery the embarrassment of setting out exactly why the whip was removed. Ultimately, the electorate will make their decision in May. Mr Montgomery should put his name forward and let the people decide who delivers for them.”