The DUP has claimed its code of conduct for members has “no bearing” on local government planning procedures, amid claims that councillors could potentially be fined for not toeing the party line.
It comes after unnamed DUP councillors alleged they could be hit with £100 fines by the party for speaking out of turn in the council chamber, or for voting against decisions taken by a DUP council group.
On Monday, it emerged that the party’s MLAs and MPs can be fined up to £1,000 for speaking without prior permission from the DUP press office.
The Nolan Show on Wednesday quoted two unidentified DUP members who claimed that councillors faced the threat of a financial penalty if they went against the party line.
One whistleblower said: “Say you went into the chamber and got up and had a different opinion to your DUP colleague and the DUP group on the council, then that is a £100 fine.
“I have removed myself from the chamber on occasions because I didn’t agree with my colleagues and their views, so it was easier for me to just get up and walk away.
“You are basically told to get out of the chamber if you don’t agree with something and there is a vote called on it. One councillor I know was definitely pulled in and told he would be fined £100.”
Another unnamed councillor added: “There was a policy that you had to go with the group decision. If the group wanted to make a decision and you were not happy with it, you had to go with that decision on a vote or leave the chamber.”
Given that planning powers are now devolved to councils, the News Letter asked the DUP if councillors could be fined for not voting in line with a council group’s decision on a particular application.
A DUP spokesperson replied: “For the sake of clarity, nothing in our internal code of conduct has any bearing on planning in local government.
“All planning applications must be decided on the merits of the case and within the Northern Ireland Local Government Code of Conduct for Councillors.”
Responding to the wider claims of fines for politicians, a party spokesman said: “The DUP operates under a constitution and a code of conduct for its members, which was passed by the central executive committee of the party.
“The party does not comment on its internal procedures.”
An unnamed DUP politician also claimed that the party’s chief executive and former special advisor Timothy Johnston acts as “judge, jury and executioner” in deciding who gets punished.
The revelations have been slammed by Tory MP Nigel Evans, who told the Nolan Show: “To think that someone would fine you for having freedom of speech I find quite intolerable.
“I think it is a very bad policy and it is not healthy for democracy. I hope the DUP reflect on this policy and think again.”
All of Northern Ireland’s other main parties said they did not impose financial penalties on anyone who gave unauthorised media interviews.