Two unionist figures have claimed DUP backers or party members voiced discomfort and made “offensive” remarks about the party’s lesbian candidate during the recent council election campaign.
Adrian Cochrane-Watson, a former UUP MLA, and Steve Aiken, UUP MLA for South Antrim, made the claims to the News Letter as votes were being totted up for the new Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council.
Among the DUP’s 14 successful candidates for the council was Alison Bennington, the first openly gay politician the DUP has ever had.
Mr Cochrane-Watson said he was not in favour of gay marriage, but has “absolutely no difficulty with her sexuality” and wishes her “every success”.
But when it comes to the DUP, he said: “I’m sure an awful lot of them are finding it very hard to stomach. I sat in Stormont with them. I sat in council chambers with them ...
“Many of them have made comments to me as well, how shocked and uncomfortable they are.
“Of course, none of them will ever break breath about it to you [as a reporter].
“But I mean these are people who, their political career is built on bashing the Bible and telling us how to live. You’re telling me they’re just going to change overnight and say ‘this is wonderful’?”
He said the people raising concerns with him included “sitting councillors, no later than yesterday [Thursday] ... outside the polling stations”.
Mr Aiken said he hoped Ms Bennington’s victory would “start changing some of the narrow-minded attitudes within that party”, and that he had already tried to sound her out about switching to the Ulster Unionists.
Mr Aiken also said: “If some of the members of her party openly talk about her in the way they talk to me about her, we will gladly ask her to come and join our party. Because I think they need to change their attitudes significantly.”
Asked what comments he had in mind, and who said them, Mr Aiken would not repeat the remarks.
He said: “I would find them quite offensive.”
Pressed over who made the remarks, Mr Aiken said whilst he cannot be certain they were in fact DUP members: “I’d say they were people who were fairly close to the DUP... they openly identified themselves with the DUP.
“I’d have said they were probably DUP canvassers, at least some of them.”
When Mr Aiken and Mr Cochrane-Watson’s accounts were put to Trevor Clarke, DUP MLA for South Antrim, said: “I have not heard one member of the public or indeed an elected member using offensive language towards the candidate. I think it’d be inappropriate.”