The TUV has become the first party to withdraw from the Unionist Forum, accusing the DUP of damaging intra-unionist relations with its support for the Maze peace centre.
The forum, set up by the DUP and UUP in January amid the Union Flag protests, has faced criticism from several of its members for what they believed was its slow progress.
And the TUV and PUP have been openly critical of the forum from its inception, leading to a belief that both were looking for an opportunity to leave.
Nevertheless, yesterday’s announcement from the TUV appeared to come out of the blue, following a meeting of the party officers on Tuesday night and what the party said was a “consultation with grassroots party members”.
In a statement the party said that it had been “sceptical about the potential of the forum to achieve anything of substance and made this clear at the outset. We were never interested in something which was merely an expediency for the moment”.
Last night another forum member, UKIP, said that it was unhappy at Peter Robinson’s actions but would remain in the forum for now.
It claimed that several ‘subgroups’ of the forum – meant to address issues such as parading, flags and problems in Protestant areas – had “rarely if ever met” and said there was so much public cynicism about the forum “most people have probably forgotten about its existence”.
It added: “After being launched in a blaze of publicity the forum seemed to quickly disappear. TUV can say from experience that there was very little going on behind closed doors either.”
The party said that the DUP’s continued support for the Maze peace centre – despite the opposition of the other unionist parties, victims and the Orange Order – was the catalyst for its decision to quit. It said the Maze had led to “unparalleled conflict between innocent victims and the DUP”.
Jim Allister’s party also complained that the forum had not been told of the PSNI-organised talks in Cardiff and the DUP-Sinn Fein forum to discuss flags and parades.
But the DUP’s Jonathan Bell dismissed the TUV move, saying that “the attitude of the TUV towards the Unionist Forum from its inception has been disappointing”.
“Their determination to divide unionism rather than work positively on issues of concern to the community has been noted on a number of occasions.”
He added: “The opportunity has always been there for Jim Allister to raise the issue of the Maze development at the forum but he chose never to do so.
“Instead they are now walking away from the table without having the courtesy to make all participants aware of their decision.”
He claimed that the TUV had failed to even attend several meetings of the forum’s sub-groups.
UKIP MLA David McNarry told the News Letter that at the last meeting of the forum three weeks ago he had challenged Mr Robinson over his other forum set up with Martin McGuinness to bring the Executive parties together to discuss flags and parades.
He accused Mr Robinson of “riding two forums at once”.
He said: “There will be a July 17 plenary and I’ve told our people that I’ll see then where Nesbitt and Robinson are going with the Unionist Forum.”