RHI scandal: McIlveen claims internal ‘fear’ of some DUP advisors

Arlene Foster and David McIlveen pictured together last April
Arlene Foster and David McIlveen pictured together last April

Former DUP MLA David McIlveen has placed significant blame for what he says is an “almost totalitarian” approach by the party at the feet of unnamed DUP advisors.

Mr McIlveen, whose blunt article in Thursday’s News Letter accused Arlene Foster of having presided over an “omnishambles”, expanded on his views in a broadcast interview.

Speaking to BBC Radio Ulster’s Talkback programme, Mr McIlveen – who remains a DUP member – stood over his article and then expanded the focus of his criticism from Mrs Foster personally to the wider DUP leadership team.

The comments from the former North Antrim MLA are in line with what two separate elected DUP members have told the News Letter in recent days.

Some DUP members are privately blaming some special advisors (Spads) for either failing to spot the RHI debacle at any point, or for how the party’s response to the crisis has been handled since the issue was catapulted to the wider public consciousness by the BBC Spotlight programme a month ago.

In a restrained initial response to Mr McIlveen’s News Letter article, the DUP said on Wednesday night that he was “entitled to his personal opinions, however this is the first time that he has articulated any view since losing his seat” and added that Mrs Foster had “overwhelming support” within the party and beyond.

Mr McIlveen told Talkback: “Ultimately, I think there is an issue within the leadership generally of the party and I’m talking at advisor level, I’m talking at senior elected level, I’m talking at party officer level.

“I think the party has just gotten away from the civilised way in which we used to do business.”

He went on: “Now, unfortunately a culture seems to have developed [whereby] if an individual within the party ... has become something of a liability or is assumed to be something of an embarrassment or someone that is going to cause difficulty into the future, then there appears to be a very ruthless, almost totalitarian approach taken to that.

“I think that’s really unhelpful, it’s really unwise; it’s not the way the party was founded.”

When asked to explain his ‘totalitarian’ comment, Mr McIlveen said: “I’m certainly not, in a public forum like this, going to start naming names ... I certainly believe there is at times an element of fear around how the party is run.

“There are certainly one or two people in a general sense who really command quite a lot of power when it comes to how the party is run.

“For someone who is a career politician, I can understand why they would obviously want to stay on the right side of those people.”