Longest serving councillor in Belfast has UUP whip restored

The longest serving councillor in Belfast has said he is “glad” to have had the Ulster Unionist Party whip restored after two years.

Wednesday, 19th May 2021, 8:14 pm
Cllr Jim Rodgers in the shadows of the Harland and Wolff cranes. Picture by Brian Little

Jim Rodgers told the News Letter the party whip was restored by the outgoing leader Steve Aiken last week.

The Ormiston councillor had the whip withdrawn in May 2019 over an election leaflet claiming the Alliance Party had a record of “voting with the Provisional IRA’s political wing”.

The election proved to be an unfavourable one for the party as several councillors lost their seats in Belfast, with some blaming the leaflet for the lack of success.

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The then party leader Robin Swann, who is now the Northern Ireland Health Minister, removed the whip from Mr Rodgers meaning he had effectively been removed from the party on the council.

Mr Rodgers said that, despite “numerous” offers to join other parties he had decided to remain loyal to the UUP and is now pleased to have the whip restored.

“I’m the longest serving councillor on Belfast City Council - 28 years - and I’ve been in the Ulster Unionist Party for over 50 years,” he told the News Letter. “I’ve been a vice president and honorary secretary and chairman of the East Belfast Ulster Unionist Association. I was in the Young Unionists.”

He continued: “I’ve had numerous people asking me to join their parties after this happened two years ago. The outgoing leader, Steve Aiken, he reinstated me last week.

I’m glad, I’m pleased and a lot of people have said to me it went on too long.”

Asked if he was tempted by any of the offers to join other parties, he said: “No, I was brought up an Ulster Unionist - in those days it was the official uninoist party. I have a lot of friends in the Ulster Unionist Party and, despite people trying to persuade me, I’m very loyal.”

Asked for his thoughts on the new leader of the party, Doug Beattie, Mr Rodgers said: “A new leader is a bit like a new manager whether in sports or business. They will always bring their own thoughts and ideas to the table. I have always been 110% behind the leader, and if I’ve got anything to say to any leader by way of criticism I will always go and say it to their face.

“I was very disappointed whenever I lost the whip. I was under extreme pressure to resign from the party but I felt that was not the road to go down. Anybody who knows me knows that I’m honest, I’m trustworthy and I’m loyal and that I will always do my best.”

He added: “It’s not an easy job leading a party and I would give my full backing to all the leaders, including Steve Aiken who I am sorry to see go, and Doug Beattie will also hav my full and unqualified backing.”