An Ulster Unionist councillor who defected to the DUP has been accused of “selfishly abandoning” those who voted for him.
The UUP have been hit by two defections to the DUP within the space of 48 hours. Belfast City Councillor Graham Craig, who represents the Botanic area of the city, follows in the footsteps of Councillor Aaron Callan, who moved to the DUP earlier this week.
As expected, some of Cllr Craig’s former colleagues have been highly critical of the move.
Councillor Jeff Dudgeon, chairman of the South Belfast Ulster Unionist Constituency Association, claimed Cllr Craig had “used the Ulster Unionist Party as a vehicle to get elected, but has now very selfishly abandoned those who voted for him. However he will have to face them in due course.”
Meanwhile, Alderman David Browne, the UUP’s group leader in Belfast City Hall, said the party is in need of “team players”.
He added: “It will be interesting to observe Graham Craig working with the DUP in City Hall who he has described in letters to the press as ‘dysfunctional’ and ‘unworthy of the trust’ placed in them by unionist voters. Strange bedfellows.”
The letters Ald Browne is referring to were published in the News Letter earlier this year.
In one letter, published in January, Cllr Craig said: “DUP representatives at City Hall have clearly demonstrated to the unionist electorate of Belfast that they are unworthy of the trust which has been placed upon them.”
In another letter, published in the News Letter in June , Cllr Craig spoke of the “dysfunctional nature of the DUP at City Hall”.
Speaking to the News Letter today, Cllr Craig defended the comments made in the letters and added: “I stand by what I said at the time, but my position has clearly changed.
“The return of Lee Reynolds to the DUP benches at City Hall has been transformative for the party.
“Likewise, the arrival of Arlene Foster as DUP leader has been transformative for the party as a whole.
“I was never going to move to the DUP while Peter Robinson was in charge. I am a country boy from Castlederg; when I look at Arlene Foster I see myself reflected back at me.”
In a statement, Cllr Craig praised Mrs Foster as a “plain, straight-forward, honest unionist” who was “more in touch with the unionist electorate” than her principal opponent, UUP leader Mike Nesbitt.
He also directed disparaging comments at his former party leader, branding Mr Nesbitt a “hapless amateur who is not quite sure how he ended up in the job or what to do next”.
Mrs Foster MLA labelled Mr Craig’s defection as a “hammer blow” to the UUP and claimed she is aware of Ulster Unionists “bewildered” at the direction of the party.
She added: “I am delighted that Graham has decided to join with us. Graham has been involved in politics for almost 27 years and joined the Young Unionists on the same day as myself. He will add considerably to our Belfast City Council Democratic Unionist group and he is most welcome.
“Graham knows that the best way for unionism to unite is to do so around the Democratic Unionist Party as we now represent a wide spectrum of unionism.
“I look forward to working alongside all of those who have joined the party in recent days as we move Northern Ireland forward.”