THE man who was vice-chairman of the UUP until less than two years ago has become the latest senior member to quit the party after objecting to the party’s closer links to the DUP.
Terry Wright, who was also chairman of the UUP’s Foyle Association until the end of last year, said that he had become “uneasy” at the direction of the UUP under Mike Nesbitt’s leadership.
In an indication of the disillusionment increasingly felt among many on the liberal wing of the UUP, the Londonderry man said that “the journey that was begun by the UUP under the Good Friday Agreement has stalled”.
Mr Wright, who backed John McCallister for the leadership last year, said that he had discussed his concerns “for some time” with senior UUP figures and members in Foyle before deciding to leave.
Just two months ago Mr Nesbitt paid tribute to Mr Wright in Londonderry, pointing out that in the aftermath of the 2010 UCUNF campaign debacle he was entrusted by the then leader Sir Reg Empey to conduct a detailed review of that campaign.
In a statement to the News Letter, Mr Wright said today that he had supported Mr McCallister mainly because the South Down MLA was committed to taking the party out of the Stormont Executive and into Opposition.
He conceded that “the overwhelming view of the party reflected in the comprehensive victory of Mike Nesbitt MLA was for an alternative strategy”.
Mr Wright said: “Since that time I have grown uneasy with the direction in which the UUP seems to be travelling with particular regard to a closer relationship with the DUP.
“In addition I remain of the view that the UUP should give renewed consideration to going into Opposition although admittedly, given its internal difficulties, it is now in a weaker position than before.
“At the party conference [in September] the party leader referring to the Mid-Ulster by-election seemed to send a codified message regarding unionist co-operation.
“Around the celebration of the Covenant there were clear indications of greater linkage with the DUP and this has been evident again over the flag protests and the Unionist Forum.”
Mr Wright said that “working for the greater good of unionism” and “stronger linkage or unity of purpose and strategy between the UUP and the DUP” was “a contradiction in terms”.
In a strong attack on the party’s current direction, Mr Wright said: “It is survivalist rather than principled. It is not the inclusive, open and participative unionism to which I believe unionists must aspire.
“It condemns politics and the country to choice by labelling and tribal identity.
“Clearly there are those within the UUP who take a different view and it is this divergence in approach which leads to differences in tactics and strategy too often manifested in public squabbling and personality clashes.
“It runs through the party like a fault-line and erodes the confidence and morale of members at a local level.”
Mr Wright said that the days of parties operating as a “broad church” were over and there was a need for parties to have “core values to which the party members can adhere and give their disciplined commitment without feeling their conscience and principles compromised”.
He added: “Perhaps the decision to which I have come, if it is in any way typical of others, will produce this by default.
“I have felt increasingly unclear as what the core values are and the tactical and strategic moves which are taking place run counter to those which I would favour.
“There was and is an opportunity for the UUP to show leadership in challenging old ideas and re-defining Unionism for a modern era but it has been passed by for options which have failed before and will fail again.”
Mr Wright said that he had respected the party’s decision to elect Mr Nesbitt as leader and accepted that “his task is not an easy one, for the UUP is a party easier to lead than command”.
But he said: “When he addressed the East Londonderry AGM last week in Limavady I was in attendance and detected little difference in our unionism, “However when I read of the plans over Mid-Ulster and set this alongside other trends and actions it seemed to me that tactics and strategy are out of line with the unionism which I felt had been articulated.”
Mr Wright, who first joined the UUP in the 1960s and was chairman of the Waterside Young Unionist Association in Londonderry, was chairman of the Foyle Association for eight years and a party officer for two years before being elected vice chairman.
Mr Wright dramatically quit that post in early 2011 in protest at the decision of the then UUP Health Minister Michael McGimpsey to not build a Radiotherapy Centre in Londonderry.
Mr Wright said that he would “continue to support” UUP Alderman Mary Hamilton in Foyle and said that he had no plans to join another party but would “wait to see what political developments take place”.