Leaked internal DUP minutes show fear of looming electoral collapse, and dismay at party’s direction

Leaked minutes of an internal DUP meeting show alarm at the state of the party, an expectation that it will lose MPs, MLAs and councillors, and a belief that there must be “drastic change”.

Tuesday, 16th March 2021, 10:32 am
South Antrim MP Paul Girvan, left, and Trevor Clarke, right, were present at the meeting where serious unease was expressed about the state of the DUP

The document refers to a belief in the party that after next year’s Assembly election the DUP will no longer be Northern Ireland’s largest party.

Even the fact that the three-page document has been leaked is evidence of disquiet, and something which is highly unusual within the normally disciplined and centralised party.

The document relates to a meeting of South Antrim constituency association – an area in which the DUP has the MP – two-and-a-half weeks ago.

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The meeting was attended by many elected representatives including MP Paul Girvan, MLAs Trevor Clarke and Pam Cameron, and multiple councillors.

Unlike the sparse minutes often kept by civil servants at Stormont, the DUP minutes are ironically more detailed, allowing the reader some insight into the mood of the meeting.

The minutes contain a Westminster Report by Mr Girvan and that section contains the most detailed portion of the document.

When contacted by the News Letter, Mr Girvan declined to comment. However, a source present at the meeting confirmed that there had been blunt discussion about the state of the party and of unionism.

The source said that some of the comments which the minutes attribute to reports were actually made by others in discussion about those reports.

In the section on Mr Girvan’s report, the minutes refer to the “need to have the protocol removed totally” but that “Edwin Poots had to implement some of the protocol issues, annual inspections, etc.”

The minutes, which are written tersely rather than in complete sentences, go on: “Business organisations are all advocates [of the protocol]. No 10 greening of NI.”

Later, that section says: “Unionism has lost ground PSNI against it. Anger within the loyalist/unionist community and is at boiling point [sic].

“Suggest we exclude all north south issues and drive our east west links.”

In an apparent reference to the TUV’s use of social media, the minutes state: “Leadership controlling the agenda TUV posts are more knowledgeable than DUP...at the next election we are going to lose MLAs, councillors and MPs. [sic]

“Feelings that we will not be the largest part after the next election. Resignation of unionism from all parties [sic] Bringing down the Assembly is not an option [sic] Deal was not good for unionism GB sacrificed NI for Brexit.

“DUP on back foot [sic] lose seats drastic change is needed.

“We seriously need to shake ourselves as the perception of voters has changed. Unionism is turning on itself.”

However, despite widespread disquiet at the perilous position in which the DUP and unionism now find themselves, there is no evidence of any imminent move against Arlene Foster as DUP leader.

The February 25 meeting, which was held virtually by Zoom, lists 18 members being present and apologies from a further five members, although it is understood that this does not comprise the total membership of the association.

The treasurer’s report referred to just £188 in membership fees for 2021, relating to 12 memberships.

In the section on a report by MLA Trevor Clarke, formerly the party’s chief whip at Stormont, the minutes said that there was a need for “engagement with individuals and [to] come up with pacts for constituencies.

“SDLP/TUV taking seats in poll. 

“Outlook for party not improved but we need to do something.”

Intriguingly, the minutes record Mr Clarke or another member as saying that an “Irish Language Act will be delivered before next election” – despite the fact the DUP publicly insists it did not agree to an Irish language act, and an attempt to dress the legislation up as something else by encompassing Ulster Scots.

Referring to the New Decade, New Approach agreement which contains that Irish legislation, the minutes say: “Arlene needs to sell it to the country!”

The section also says that “media not helping us” and “issues by Peter [seemingly Education Minister Peter Weir] ridiculed by media”.

The leaked DUP minutes also show internal discussion about the behaviour of senior party figures.

The South Antrim constituency association chairman, local councillor Paul Dunlop, is recorded as saying: “When you get the likes of Sammy Wilson being outspoken then people are asking what are the party doing? People within the party asking too! Rein in people from the top who step outside rules Need to allow the MPs MLAs and Cllrs to meet!”

Another member, Austin Orr, was recorded as saying that “we are losing with no strategy, no vision, media reaction” and Ryan Rea was recorded as apparently advocating greater central control: “SF told what to say DUP should do the same. Edwin coming out with more Catholics than Protestants saying things out of school [sic]”.

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