‘If I was still in the DUP, I’d be terrified about an election’ – former insider reveals what it has been like as things fall apart

Elected at 25, Darryn Causby was on his way up in the DUP before growing disillusioned and walking away. Having backed the DUP all his life, now the councillor tells SAM McBRIDE the party is too weak

Wednesday, 7th July 2021, 7:13 am
Darryn Causby firmly supported Arlene Foster – but grew disillusioned

At the bottom of the political ladder, councillors have never been more poorly understood. That is overwhelmingly for one reason: the contraction of the media means that regional newspapers now rarely report council meetings and an alarming number of local newspapers now don’t do so either.

And yet councillors are the veins of a political party; they connect the public with the top of government, hoovering up information which can improve their leader’s decision-making while also acting as trusted salespeople for the party’s message in their area.

At least that is how it works in theory. In a blunt interview with the News Letter, Darryn Causby, who three weeks ago resigned from the DUP says that “in my experience, councillors in the DUP don’t have any influence”.

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Darryn Causby has revealed that he sent a solicitor’s letter to the DUP to force a leadership election in May

The 35-year-old may be an important straw in the wind as to the mood of unionism and how what was once a fringe idea – being willing to topple Stormont – is increasingly mainstream.

After joining the DUP at university, the youth worker ran for election to Craigavon Borough Council at the age of 25. With 237 votes, he scraped in on transfers from former DUP MLA Sydney Anderson. By 2019, Causby was topping the poll with over 2,000 votes – ahead of Anderson.

Although he voted for Jim Allister in 2009 (“a protest vote”), he did not share his unbending objection to Sinn Féin having a guaranteed place in government; instead he thought that local ministers could improve society.

But now he says: “I’m not sure that the devolution settlement is working for the country, and in particular for unionism.”

He cites the government’s decision to legislate for the New Decade, New Approach agreement’s ‘cultural package’ on Irish, Ulster Scots and Ulster Britishness as something which ought to have been a red line for the DUP.

The strength of his view on that is striking because he does not oppose that legislation – in fact, he thinks it could have been sold far more positively by the DUP.

Instead he says that the DUP should have insisted that it was wrong to prioritise one part of a huge agreement while ignoring other parts of the deal – from the health waiting list crisis to problems in schooling.

“It undermines the devolution settlement because Sinn Féin now know that this has worked for them, so they can do it again. The DUP have put themselves in a position where it appears now that they’re not prepared under any circumstances to pull down the institutions – and it makes them look weak.”

But if the DUP pulls down Stormont, isn’t the alternative to give full power to Boris Johnson - the man who betrayed unionism and built the Irish Sea border?

Causby dismisses this, citing the government’s increasing willingness to override devolution anyway as evidence that Stormont no longer has real power: “Boris is going to do what Boris is going to do”.

So if he sees unionism losing under devolution via individual acts of direct rule and full direct rule would mean the same, what is the alternative? “I don’t have the answer for what the alternative is, to be fair...but we’ve got to be prepared to say ‘this isn’t working’”.

He says is confident that direct rule ministers could not justify inaction on critical issues such as waiting lists and educational underachievement which Stormont has failed to address.

He says that opinion within the DUP on Stormont’s future is split but highlights that there are party members who draw a salary via Stormont, many of whom are not MLAs, but councillors or party members who have a publicly-funded job in an MLA’s constituency office: “It would be very difficult for them if Stormont was to come down – and I’m not saying their motive is salary by any means; I’m just reflecting the reality”.

He still hopes for a unionist majority in next year’s Assembly election to vote down the Irish Sea border, “but on its current trajectory I don’t believe it’s anywhere close to it”.

“If I was still in the DUP, I would be terrified about going to an election...there are people I know who you could have bet your house on voting for you as a member of the DUP who are openly telling me they will not be voting for the DUP; that is hugely concerning.”

He does not think the DUP can serve as deputy first minister to a Sinn Féin first minister and that if they do then they will suffer in future elections.

There are other DUP politicians “ready to quit”, he says. “I don’t think you’ve seen the last resignation – and I’m saddened about that”. His own reasons for leaving are deeply personal; he was close enough to Edwin Poots’s campaign to feel dismay at the disconnect between his expectations and the reality.

He played a quiet role – until now not known publicly – in hastening the leadership contest in which Poots triumphed. After Foster’s resignation, “there was an initial thought that some within the party establishment were not going to move as quickly as they should be in line with rule 12 of the party rules.

“I sent legal correspondence to the party to appeal to them to move ahead with their own rules and make sure that they were followed...the party’s response to my legal letter was another legal letter which actually questioned my standing within the party.

“I was shocked that the party would use party resources to attack my standing within the party as someone who had never broken the party line, who had never spoken out of turn to the media, and who had never been disciplined or even been on the radar for discipline.”

When asked if that was coordinated with Poots, he only says: “My name was on the solicitor’s letter.”

Poots had not attended north-south ministerial meetings while standing for the leadership but once in post he denied there had been a boycott. Causby says “the party policy on north-south ministerial things was flip-flopping. I know there were those in the party who were told not to go to cross-border bodies and I also know some of those same people were contacted and told that they should go.”

Poots’s decision to nominate Paul Givan to be first minister despite the overwhelming majority of his colleagues opposing that move appalled him: “It was a significant miscalculation by Edwin to go against the majority of the party; I felt at that stage...I am willing to resign; this is not OK. I’d been internally critical of Arlene Foster...what Edwin had done was equally unacceptable and my integrity didn’t allow me to be inconsistent”.

But his unhappiness was far deeper. He had been disconcerted at how some DUP members were disciplined (Poots was fined) while others seemed untouchable – “I mean, Sammy Wilson’s practically an independent MP because he says and does his own thing.”

With no plans to join the UUP or TUV, he doesn’t rule out a return to the DUP (praising local party colleagues) – or leaving politics entirely.

Darryn Causby was once the future of the DUP. His story is partly one of poor party management by an ultra-centralised organisation. However, it is also a sign of how unionist sentiment is hardening – although without any clear strategy for where that might lead.

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