An Ulster Unionist who less than two months ago was an MLA for the party has dramatically defected to the DUP, the News Letter can today reveal.
Alastair Patterson, who stood as an Ulster Unionist candidate in last month’s Assembly election, has become the second UUP figure from the west of the Province to join Arlene Foster’s party since the election.
Less than five months ago, Mr Patterson was co-opted by the UUP as its MLA for Fermanagh-South Tyrone.
That came after another co-opted MLA – Neil Somerville, who had replaced Tom Elliott last year after Mr Elliott was elected as an MP – suddenly quit the Assembly, citing stress.
Mr Patterson – who lives in the neighbouring constituency of West Tyrone – then stood for the UUP in May’s Assembly election, but his 3,010 votes were not enough to win a seat.
Meanwhile his UUP running mate, Rosemary Barton, was elected successfully.
In a statement yesterday, Mr Patterson said: “This move to join the DUP was a step I needed to make. At the Assembly election in May the people of Northern Ireland delivered a clear and resounding message of endorsement of Arlene Foster as their First Minister and the leader of unionism.
“Unionism in Northern Ireland is in an extremely strong position and will get even stronger if more people like myself make the right decision and get behind Arlene and support her as their leader of unionism.
“Under her leadership the DUP can and will dominate Northern Ireland politics for many years to come.
“Being a unionist with very traditional core values as a churchman, an Orangeman, and a bandsman I feel that the DUP clearly and articulately represent these values.
“Consequently, this is the right time for me to join the party.”
Mr Patterson, who is a Freemason as well as a member of the Orange Order, said that “recent decisions by the UUP, both locally and nationally, have disappointed me and did leave me feeling let down”.
He said that he had knocked thousands of doors during the recent campaign, telling people that the UUP had secured a two-week window to negotiate a Programme for Government and that the UUP would enter those talks, “only for Mike Nesbitt to withdraw without even trying to negotiate, leaving me feeling let down and disappointed”.
The quantity surveyor and former member of the world famous Field Marshall Montgomery Pipe Band, said the electorate “wants our Executive to take those difficult decisions to secure a better future for us all” and said that would “leave opposition parties in an even more irrelevant position than they currently are in”.
Mrs Foster said she was “delighted” that Mr Patterson had joined, describing him as someone who is “deeply committed to strengthening the Union and Northern Ireland, and has a strong track record of public service”.
She added: “He is someone of the utmost integrity and has much to offer Northern Ireland as we move forward.
“Like many other unionists who have taken the same step he will find a very warm welcome awaits him in his new home.
“We look forward to working with Alastair and he will play an important role within the DUP.”