Two new arrivals in DUP camp as UUP councillor Alan Lewis defects alongside serial party-switcher Henry Reilly
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The move expands the party’s team there from two to four (another sitting councillor, William Walker, was suspended by the DUP earlier this year pending the outcome of child grooming charges).
Councillor Lewis had been a prominent UUP activist in South Down for years before being elected to the council three years ago.
Councillor Reilly was once a member of the UUP, then UKIP, and then the TUV, but for the last five years he has served as an independent.
In a statement announcing the arrival of the two councillors to the DUP camp, party leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said: “They join many other new members who are now part of a vibrant and growing party within South Down and I pay tribute to Diane Forsythe MLA who has led that growth.
“I have known Henry over many years and he has always been a dedicated representative, focused on delivering for the people of the Mournes, and dedicated to strengthening our place within the UK.
“Since his election in 2019 Alan has also been a fearless and hardworking representative, focused on uniting and strengthening unionism within South Down.
“I want to see a stronger and more cohesive unionism, working to strengthen our place within the Union.
“There is a unity of purpose within unionism in opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol, and as leader of the DUP I will do everything in my power to build upon that.
“To anyone who wants to build a better Northern Ireland, I issue a warm invitation to join Alan, Henry and many others across Northern Ireland who have joined us in building a more united unionism.”
TURMOIL IN UNIONISM:
The last couple of years have been a hugely turbulent time for the unionist minority who sit on the 41-person council, and for unionism in the region generally.
The two existing DUP members of the council – Kathryn Owen and Glynn Hanna – quit following the election of Edwin Poots as leader in 2021, only to return to the party fold when Sir Jeffrey gained the reins shortly afterwards.
In addition the DUP MLA Diane Forsythe was elected to her seat in May (making her the only unionist MLA in South Down) – but only after the entire DUP officer group in the constituency resigned in protest at her selection, saying it had been imposed on them without any consultation.
Twisting the knife further still, the officers all came out in support of the local TUV candidate instead.
And all of that drama came on the heels of a saga involving veteran DUP man Jim Wells, who had fallen out with the party leadership in 2018 and spent most of the following years as a kind of semi-detatched member – being nominally still a DUP MLA whilst having the whip withdrawn.
He too ended up quitting the DUP ahead of the May Stormont election, and endorsed the local TUV candidate.
‘WE NEED MORE UNITY’:
In a statement from the party, councillor Lewis said: “The election of Diane Forsythe as MLA for South Down has reinvigorated unionism within this part of Northern Ireland, and she’s already established herself as an energetic and positive representative within the constituency.
“The people I represent want to see greater unionist unity. There were more than 12,500 unionist votes cast at the last Assembly election in South Down and I believe this can be further built upon through a strong DUP team, which I am looking forward to being part of.”
And councillor Reilly said he “welcomed the strong leadership offered by Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and the DUP on the Northern Ireland Protocol”, adding: “I look forward to being part of that strong DUP team.”
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