The man who spearheaded Ukip in Northern Ireland last night accused the party leader in the Province of acting in a way which is “bringing the party into disrepute”.
Henry Reilly, who until last month was Ukip’s Northern Ireland chairman, said that he believed leader David McNarry was attempting to force him out of the party.
The News Letter has been told by two sources that the two men’s dispute escalated rapidly after they clashed over which hotel to use for a rally addressed by Ukip leader Nigel Farage.
For five years — from he joined Ukip in 2008, until David McNarry joined and became its Northern Ireland leader in 2013 — Mr Reilly, pictured inset, was the public face of Ukip in Northern Ireland.
Yesterday Mr McNarry said that Mr Reilly had been suspended by the party, only for Mr Reilly to publicly dismiss that claim in a live radio interview on BBC Talkback.
The party responded with a statement saying that Mr Reilly had been suspended “from all party activity” and that the issue was being handled by Ukip’s headquarters in England.
Last night Mr McNarry said it was “clear and unambiguous — Henry cannot participate actively as a Ukip member”.
He told the News Letter: “I am unable to answer Henry Reilly because of the rules and I am hamstrung in this situation.
“When the time comes and the matter has been dealt with by the National Executive Committee, I will be free to comment.”
Mr Reilly said that he had received huge support from Ukip members yesterday. He said: “On the radio, I tried to be conciliatory and I was really disappointed that Mr McNarry phoned Talkback and stated the complete contrary to what I’m saying. That is bringing the party into disrepute.”
Mr McNarry said that “no one likes the situation which has arisen”.
He said that despite the row the party is now “actively involved in the selection process to select candidates for the Assembly election”.
“I am confident that we will return a sizeable number of MLAs endorsed by the public for Ukip policies.”
He added: “We are most fortunate in that Ukip are taking the lead in the ‘no’ campaign for the EU referendum and, given a fair hearing, we will be active in Northern Ireland with meetings relating to that which I’m quite sure will boost our support.
“I judge that by something I haven’t seen for a long time in the Park Avenue Hotel on Monday, that was the exceptional reception to Nigel Farage and the policies he was laying out.”
Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster’s Talkback programme, yesterday, Mr Reilly described the action against him as a “minor technical issue” which was related to comments he made to the Irish News on the day of Mr Farage’s visit about his resignation as chairman.
But he insisted he had only been suspended from certain party activities.
“It just means I am suspended from some internal party activities but I am still a full Ukip councillor,” he said.
He added: “I’m not kicked out of the party. I’m still a fully functioning Ukip councillor. It is an internal party issue that just needs to be resolved now.”
After yesterday’s party statement that he had been suspended, the Kilkeel councillor wrote on his Facebook page: “I can reassure everyone that I contacted the national party chairman Mr Steve Crowther this morning prior to me going on BBC Talkback to make sure that I was allowed to do so and to make sure I was allowed to represent Ukip.
“The party chairman clearly advised me that the suspension requested by the regional organiser for Northern Ireland only covers some internal party issues and that I am still a full member of Ukip. This is my solemn word.”
When asked last night to clarify his position within the party, Mr Reilly told the News Letter: “The only clarity is that David McNarry seems adamant that he wants me removed from Ukip and I just can’t understand why the man thinks that way and acts the way he does.
“I would be a builder and David seems to want to knock things down.”
He said that the national party – whose press office did not return a News Letter call yesterday – had told him that “this is a Northern Ireland issue; the complaint has gone in”.
Mr Reilly admitted that “the whole thing is a mess”.
Other Ukip members yesterday expressed support for Mr Reilly.
Sources have claimed that the row which led to Mr Reilly quitting as the party’s chairman in Northern Ireland last month started in a dispute over which hotel to use for a Ukip rally.
Mr McNarry, it is said, wanted the rally, at which Ukip leader Nigel Farage was the star attraction, to be held in the Park Avenue Hotel in east Belfast.
But Mr Reilly is believed to have strongly felt that it should be moved to a larger city centre location which would be more accessible.
Although Mr Reilly quickly quit as regional chairman in the wake of that spat, the news did not emerge until after the event on Monday – which was held in the Park Avenue Hotel – when Mr Reilly was suspended.