A THIRD DUP councillor has defected to a rival party, less than 48 hours ahead of the European election.
Belfast councillor John Kirkpatrick followed two defections on Monday – Dungannon and South Tyrone councillor Harry Greenaway, who joined the Ulster Unionists, and Ballymena councillor Deirdre Nelson, who joined the Conservatives.
Councillor Kirkpatrick, a former High Sheriff of Belfast, said that he did not believe the DUP's economic policies were sufficient to get the Province through the recession and he expressed admiration for Conservative leader David Cameron's efforts to tackle issues "either ignored or messed up by the Labour Government".
"There is an urgent need for an innovative economic strategy for Northern Ireland and I don't believe that the DUP has such a strategy," he said.
"I also believe that the DUP has lost touch with what was once its core vote, particularly in estates and rural areas.
"The hierarchy of the party seems more concerned with dynasty building and expense claims than with tackling the socio-economic agenda."
The UUP highlighted that on the DUP website it hails Councillor Kirkpatrick for "his record of hard work and achievement as a Belfast City councillor."
Speaking of Councillor Kirkpatrick's defection, Robin Newton, DUP Group Leader in Belfast City Council, said: "Jim is a political chameleon.
"In the space of a few years he has been a UUP member several times whilst in between he has flirted with a range of parties. This continued serial party-jumping is laughable."
He said that at a DUP group meeting on Monday night, Councillor Kirkpatrick had expressed no concerns and had voted for a DUP Lord Mayor in the council meeting, also voting against a UUP candidate.
Yesterday morning, Conservative Shadow Secretary of State Owen Paterson welcomed Mrs Nelson to his party as its "first DUP convert".
Mrs Nelson, who along with Stephen McIlveen lost out to Diane Dodds in the internal selection process to be the DUP's European election candidate, said that she had become dissulusioned since Ian Paisley's departure as leader almost a year ago.
Paying tribute to his "strong democratic values," she said that he had been "moving the party in the right direction" by entering the power-sharing Executive but she claimed that the party was now moving back on some of those changes.
Admitting that she had at first been "cynical" about the UUP's link with the Conservatives, Mrs Nelson said that she had "only very recently" decided to move, now believing that the Tories are serious about Northern Ireland.
"I have watched with interest the emerging partnership and believe that it offers a new way forward, offering a new future for my children and others' children and a way out of sectarianism," she said.
The mother said that when she intimated that she wanted to attend Conservative leader David Cameron's public meeting in Ballymena Town Hall last month, believing him to be "the likely future Prime Minister", the party had told her not to go, something she said was "like a red rag to a bull".
Asked why she had remained in the DUP for so long, Mrs Nelson said that she had hoped to influence the party from within to change, adding that former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith's commitment to tacking deprivation across Britain the had been one of the key factors in her decision.
But a DUP spokesman hit back, saying that her departure was nsurprising.
In a fierce attack, the DUP dismissed her as a "political reject whose prospects in the party had been curtailed for a number of reasons over the last few years".
"In light of her inability to attract support within the party it has been widely known for sometime that she was seeking position with another party."