Richard Bullick left his role as the DUP’s key adviser in 2017 in the wake of the RHI scandal, a crisis which was exacerbated by Arlene Foster’s lack of humility and infamous “crocodile” remark which contributed to unionism losing its Stormont majority for the first time since 1921.
Over recent years there have been clear tensions between Mr Bullick and Mrs Foster’s regime.
That was most clearly demonstrated when he led opposition to a technical piece of legislation last year which gave more power to ministers. Mr Bullick highlighted that one of Mrs Foster’s justifications for the Executive Committee (Functions) Bill was factually incorrect and based on misunderstanding the law.
His criticism was central to the biggest parliamentary rebellion in the history of the DUP when 11 DUP MLAs actively abstained – by voting in person in both lobbies – and others failed to vote at all, despite the imposition of a whip ordering them to vote in favour of the legislation.
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Two DUP sources confirmed that Mr Bullick is now being brought back as a special adviser (spad) to the first minister – a significant decision by new leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson.
One source said it was likely that another of Mrs Foster’s spads, Philip Weir, will stay in post but her key spad, Emma Little Pengelly, has already left.
When contacted by the News Letter, Mr Bullick declined to comment.
The DUP did not respond to a request for comment.
Mr Bullick, who is one of the DUP’s most moderate figures, was brought into the party in 2000 by Peter Robinson and served as a key aide under three successive DUP first ministers.
A crucial architect of the modern DUP, it was a sign of the party’s drift when he left in May 2017 to work for Belfast lobbying and PR firm MCE.
The former barrister was perpetually by the side of DUP first ministers as they travelled to Downing Street, the White House and Dublin and during the many fraught negotiations at points where the peace process appeared to be in some peril over more than a decade.
One DUP member who worked closely with Mr Bullick told the News Letter in 2017 that he had “a recall for detail which probably nobody else in the party has”.
Mr Bullick also helped craft some of Peter Robinson’s most significant speeches as he attempted to re-shape the DUP in the years after he succeeded Dr Paisley in 2008 until his retirement in 2016.
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