An Ulster Unionist who last week defected to the DUP described his local DUP MP as someone who appeared to be a “complete robot” earlier this year.
Limavady councillor Aaron Callan made the candid comments about Gregory Campbell in January as he was preparing to stand against the DUP in East Londonderry as an Ulster Unionist candidate for the Assembly.
The News Letter has obtained five minutes of audio from an interview which a UUP party worker conducted with Mr Callan.
The UUP said that candidates had been told that the interviews – which were used to draw up election literature that reflected each candidate’s individual priorities – were being recorded.
The recording is embarrassing for the new DUP recruit because Mr Campbell is the senior DUP representative in his area and his private comments earlier this year contrast with his public utterances about the DUP veteran in recent days.
In a statement last week as he announced his defection to the DUP, Mr Callan referred to Mr Campbell as being part of the DUP’s “strong and united team” in the area.
He said: “Working with Gregory Campbell MP, and three DUP MLAs alongside local councillors more can be achieved for Limavady and East Londonderry in jobs, services, and investment.”
DUP leader Arlene Foster said at the time that Mr Callan “will fit in well with our strong team in East Londonderry led by Gregory Campbell MP”.
However, on the audio recording, Mr Callan said: “Peter Robinson always came across as like this robot that all he did all day was think about politics and do politics and that was it. You know, somebody like...Gregory Campbell in my area comes across as a complete robot, like he’s no good at...”
Mr Callan was also strongly critical of the Stormont Executive and the DUP: “There’s a number of aspects of the Stormont set-up that worries me. One is about opposition. I’ve always been a very strong supporter [sic] that there should be an opposition at Stormont.
“I don’t think it just automatically [inaudible] will resolve everything but I think it’s a good stepping stone towards creating a better government.”
He added: “The thing that really irritates me is that the DUP came out of the St Andrews Agreement saying ‘we’ve ended [ministerial] solo runs’ – this whole mandate has been full of solo runs ... it just is bizarre the way this government is being run.”
He also suggested that the media was somehow against the UUP, saying that UUP councillors often struggled to get across to the public just how hard they are working.
He said that as a UUP councillor “it’s very difficult when the press is hostile to you, or wasn’t a supporter in the past”.
Praising what he said was an ethos of hard work at the heart of the UUP, Mr Callan said that “no other party has that kind of ethos – there’s a lot of parties there that are driven by ego rather than by service ... the Ulster Unionist Party embodies that ... it’s the oldest political party on this island because it has throughout its lifetime been delivering for people and putting itself last and putting the people first.”
Last night Mr Callan told the News Letter: “For someone they said was ‘unlikely to be missed’, my former party seems to be remarkably exercised about my decision to join the DUP.
“It doesn’t surprise me that the UUP’s focus is entirely on the past, whilst mine is on the future and on serving the people of Limavady alongside a strong team of colleagues.
“The track record and reputation for hard work of Gregory Campbell and other DUP representatives was very clear to me as I knocked doors during the Assembly election campaign.
“There are obviously many good people within the Ulster Unionist Party, but it is also a question of leadership, strategy and direction. At my first DUP conference on Saturday I was joined by many colleagues who have taken the same step as myself in recent times, and for very similar reasons.”
He added: “Whilst UUP HQ have spent their time digging out old audio recordings of myself they should instead consider what has happened since it was recorded. Councillors, Assembly candidates, constituency officers and ordinary members have all made the decision to resign and join the DUP in that time.”