DUP leader Arlene Foster is predicting further defections from the UUP to her party after welcoming former Ulster Unionist councillor Aaron Callan into the fold.
Mrs Foster, who had herself defected from the UUP back in 2004, said “many from an Ulster Unionist background” were now “uniting around the DUP”.
Mr Callan, who was elected to the Causeway Coast and Glens council for the UUP two years ago, cited a “lack of interest” in local constituency issues and what he termed a “drift” from unionist values as his reasons for leaving to join the DUP. He said the DUP now represented “mainstream” unionism.
While the UUP said in a terse statement on Wednesday that he “won’t be missed”, he has been welcomed with open arms by his new party colleagues.
First Minister Arlene Foster said: “I commend Aaron for making this move at this time and I assure him that he will have a full role to play as we build a stronger Northern Ireland.
“Aaron’s move is yet another indication that the DUP is now the only unionist party that is capable of commanding support across the Province.
“Many from an Ulster Unionist background are uniting around the DUP and have already joined with us since the Assembly election and I know Aaron will not be the last.”
Aaron Callan is the second Causeway Coast and Glens councillor to quit the UUP in recent times, following David Harding’s decision to quit and sit as an independent in February last year.
Councillor Callan’s defection leaves the UUP with no elected representation in the town of Limavady.
The decision by the late David McClarty to quit the party in 2011 and the subsequent election of his successor Claire Sugden as an independent unionist means the UUP is also without representation at Assembly level in East Londonderry.
The DUP’s Gregory Campbell is the MP for East Londonderry. He said: “I look forward to working with Aaron and he is very welcome to our East Londonderry team. The Democratic Unionist Party is long established as the main unionist party in the area as well as across Northern Ireland, this is not about the UUP now not having any elected representation in the Limavady area but it is about building for the future and Aaron’s decision to join with us is further vindication of the stance we are taking.”