DUP in chaos as councillors and members quit, denouncing Edwin Poots as they go
Edwin Poots’s woes as DUP leader have deepened after two councillors and two party members quit the party in a dispute over where the party is going.
Just over three weeks since he defeated Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and ten days after being ratified in a divided meeting of the DUP executive, Mr Poots finds himself leader of a disputatious and shrinking DUP.
Today it emerged that South Down DUP constituency association chairman and local councillor Glynn Hanna, his daughter and former DUP Westminster candidate Diane Forsythe, fellow association member Richard McKee, and councillor Kathryn Owen from the neighbouring Strangford association had all resigned from the DUP.
The immediate catalyst for the resignations was the annual general meeting of the South Down association which was held at the weekend.
Councillor Owen presided over the meeting as an independent outsider and oversaw the election of constituency association figures.
During that process Mr Hanna was voted out as chairman of the association. Today he claimed that the meeting had been “flooded” by local MLA Jim Wells. However, there were only 15 members present and Mr Hanna lost the vote narrowly by 7 votes to 8.
Over recent years there have been deep strains within the DUP in South Down. Mr Wells was in dispute with Arlene Foster’s leadership and lost the party whip – but she did not expel him from the party.
Ms Forsythe was expected to be the candidate to replace Mr Wells in next year’s Assembly election if Mrs Foster had remained leader.
However, with Mrs Foster and her supporters no longer being in power, Mr Wells has now found himself closer to the top of the party.
Defeated leadership candidate Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said it was highly regrettable that “senior and valued members now feel the DUP is no longer a warm house for them”.
Mr Hanna said moves to remove him and other office holders in the constituency represented a “purge” of those who voiced concern at how Mrs Foster was treated and who supported Sir Jeffrey in the subsequent leadership contest.
“I believe this is the beginning of the purge of anyone who spoke against the leadership so I encourage others in the DUP with decency and integrity to consider their position,” he said.
Mr Hanna claimed there had been “open and unashamed bullying” by some in the party.
In a ferocious statement, Ms Forsythe said she had faced “disrespectful attitudes” within the party, including “shameful sexism, ageism and the underlying tone of bullying”.
She said the bullying was now in “plain sight”, with members’ families “bullied and smeared” during the leadership contest.
“I can no longer be a part of this party in its journey to derail my precious country of Northern Ireland in this its Centenary year,” she said.
She added: “The disintegration of this party in recent times has left me no option but to leave.
“The leadership of this party chose not to listen, chose not to acknowledge the divide in the party and repeatedly voiced their view that we need to ignore our differences and do what the leadership says....the local treatment of my father was an absolute disgrace.”
Ms Forsythe concluded: “The DUP have taken a path catastrophic for unionism and I can only hope that it can be recovered in some way by other means.”
Another South Down party member, Richard McKee, tweeted to say that he had resigned from the DUP, but gave no reason.
When contacted by the News Letter, Mr Wells said that a statement would be issued from him through the DUP press office but at the time of going to press that had not been received.
In a general statement, the DUP said: “The South Down Association held its AGM on Saturday. Some of the members who have resigned, sought re-election to hold office within the party.
“It is disappointing they have chosen to resign from the party, following the outcome of the meeting.
“We thank them for their service.
“The party takes these matters very seriously and any complaints should be made in writing to enable a thorough and fair investigation.”
DUP members ‘intimidated into changing vote’
The meeting at which Edwin Poots was ratified as leader of the DUP saw senior party members tell members of the party executive to change their vote, one of those who was present has claimed.
Mr Poots and his supporters did not want a secret ballot for the vote on ratifying him as leader, fearing that there was an attempt by the party establishment to block his appointment.
However today Glynn Hanna, who was there as chairman of South Down DUP association, claimed that some members of the executive had put their hands up to vote in favour of holding a secret ballot but senior members of the party told them to take their hands down, which they then did.
Speaking on the Nolan Show as he resigned from the DUP, Mr Hanna said there were those in the party who were weaker than him and “maybe have their mortgages riding on it”.
When asked if people had been approached and intimidated into voting a way which they did not want to vote, he said: “Yes, that is correct...there’s [DUP members] who have their livelihoods depending on it; there’s a culture of fear there.”
“I saw senior party members who you would know very well whispering in people’s ears and others pointing at people and waving at them to put their hands down.”
The Mourne councillor added: “I’m sitting here with tears in my eyes that my party that I’ve just left is in this situation because I believe they were a strong hope for the future of unionism and represented a lot of people but just at this moment in time where are we?
“We need somebody to vote for and I hope someone steps forward that we can all follow.”
He said that Mr Poots had U-turned on much of what he had said when standing for the leadership and added: “Edwin has turned from the hard man to the flip-flop man”.
New deputy leader Paula Bradley told Talkback that she had not seen any attempts to get members of the executive to change their votes and agreed that if that had happened “it would be disgraceful”.
She said that with hindsight a secret ballot to ratify the leader would have been better – but insisted “the result wouldn’t have changed in any way”.
She accepted that the way Mrs Foster was overthrown could have been handled better but said that the coup had been carried out as it was because “for many they felt that was the only option they had left to them” but that “it was never intended to be a brutal humiliation”.
My backers are being purged: Donaldson
Edwin Poots needs to quickly “get a grip of this situation”, or many other DUP members may quit, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has warned.
The defeated leadership contestant told the Belfast Telegraph: “I fear that if Edwin fails to quickly get a grip of this situation, then many others may also conclude that the DUP is no longer capable of being a broad church and providing a home for the type of unionism we espouse.
“Recognising that many within the party have serious concerns about the manner in which Arlene was removed, and about the future direction of the party, I have sought quietly to reassure those who supported me and who have contemplated resignation.
“Specifically, in relation to our South Down Association, I had encouraged officers and members to attend the AGM and to continue participating in the work of the party.
“These efforts were thrown back in their face on Saturday in what can only be described as a purge of loyal members who have served our party well, but whom some deemed unacceptable because they had supported me at the recent Executive meeting.
“There are elements running amok in South Down who are destroying any hope of building party unity.”
New DUP deputy leader Paula Bradley rejected that criticism, telling the BBC: “I don’t think it’s a purge in any way, shape or form and I don’t know how [they] can say it’s a purge of moderates when I’m the deputy leader.”
She said that allegations of bullying and sexism would be investigated and urged those making the allegations to bring them for investigation.
Ms Bradley told Talkback: “I would definitely say we’re not going through a purge.”The North Belfast MLA said that she has not talked to Mrs Foster since she was overthrown.
Ms Bradley said “I hope to speak to her at some stage” but added that “Arlene and I would rarely have lifted the phone to one another to have had a conversation previous to this”.
The deputy leader also confirmed again that there was a letter of no confidence in Mrs Foster which was signed by 22 of the 27 DUP MLAs – something Mrs Foster has questioned in the last fortnight.
Mrs Bradley said: “There were 22 members of the assembly group who signed that letter. we all felt very strongly that we needed change.”
Ex-DUP councillor doesn’t rule out move to the UUP
One of the two DUP councillors who have quit the party has not ruled out joining the UUP, but told the News Letter that she will now take several weeks away from politics with her family.
In her resignation statement, Kathryn Owen said: “It is apparent to me that there is a purging of Donaldson supporters, and it is only a matter of time before this continues across the party. It would be against my principles as a veteran, mother and independent woman to stand idly by and allow this behaviour to continue, rewarded by my silence and inaction.”
She added: “I joined the DUP under Sir Jeffrey’s counsel. I believed wholeheartedly that the DUP was heading in a brighter direction, and I wanted to be part of that. It is now clear to me that this is misguided....I have concerns over the future direction of the DUP, with many talented women and moderate individuals within the DUP feeling voiceless.”
Ms Owen told the Nolan Show that within the DUP “I’ve been shut down, I’ve been shut out, I’ve been cold-shouldered, I’ve been to places where people have turned their backs and not talked to me”.
She said that Mrs Foster was “trying her best” to soften the party’s stance on issues such as gay rights
She said that what had happened in South Down was “a replication” of what had happened to Mrs Foster: “It was the whispering, it was the texting, it was the planning behind – and Glynn deserves better. Glynn is a Mourne man, he knows South Down like the back of his hand, and personally it’s disgusting.”
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