DUP councillors have claimed they can be fined £100 for speaking out against the party line during council meetings.
It comes after a whistleblower complained that DUP MLAs and MPs could be subject to fines of £1,000 for speaking without prior permission from the party press office.
It was also claimed that DUP chief executive and former special advisor Timothy Johnston acts as “judge, jury and executioner” in deciding who gets punished.
And in a further twist, the BBC’s Nolan Show this morning quoted two unidentified DUP members who alleged that local councillors faced the threat of a fine if they make unauthorised comments in council chambers.
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 it was 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 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.
“There would be considerations of a fine for speaking out against the group. You would be scared to speak up against the group.”
Responding to the claims of fines for politicians yesterday, 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 chief executive, on behalf of the party officers, writes to members on code of conduct matters, as he is required to do from time to time. The party does not comment on its internal procedures.”
The spokesman added: “The party reserves the right to decide what programmes to participate in and the best mix of platforms to ensure ongoing communication with the people of Northern Ireland.”
The revelations prompted a former commissioner on public standards, Sir Alistair Graham, to say he feared the DUP’s disciplinary system “severely undermined” democracy.
“I would sincerely hope the DUP, because of the damage to their reputation this information will have made, will rethink its policy, because this is quite authoritarian and draconian, and I believe it will damage their standing,” he said.
All of Northern Ireland’s other main parties said they did not impose financial penalties on anyone who gave unauthorised media interviews.