They said there was “real resentment and anger” within the party directed against those in the DUP responsible for the report on the Nolan Show this week that alleged their leader held talks with Doug Beattie aimed at wooing Sir Jeffrey into the UUP fold.
The DUP leader has stressed that the talks were merely focussed on improving pan-unionist cooperation.
Senior sources in both unionist parties told The News Letter tonight that they accepted that the leak to the BBC programme came from within the DUP.
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“They are being accused throughout the party of airing dirty linen, which is needless. It has backfired on them and there is serious anger about it. Those behind it just didn’t blot their copybook; they spilled their entire bottle of ink all over it,” one DUP source said.
A senior party figure said they were confident Sir Jeffrey had weathered this particular political storm and there was no threat to his leadership.
They said there has been “incredulity” within the DUP ranks that someone within the party had been reviving memories of last year’s divisive leadership coups and contests, which ended up eventually with Sir Jeffrey in charge.
“People are quite happy with fellow unionists talking to each other about cooperation. It’s what most unionists want to see happen rather than whispering games. There is a broad welcome that unionist leaders are talking,” the senior DUP source added.
The DUP refused to comment either about the source of the leak or reports that the Donaldson-Beattie meeting took place at a military base in Co.Down in order to preserve the secrecy of the discussions.
The Ministry of Defence was asked if there will be an inquiry as to how two local politicians were allegedly able to use an army barracks to hold talks last year and if it broke any protocols governing the use of military bases. As of Friday evening the MOD has yet to comment on the matter.
The discussions took place last May shortly after Edwin Poots narrowly defeated Jeffrey Donaldson in the DUP’s first ever leadership contest in its 50-year history.
Sir Jeffrey spent Friday in Cookstown meeting representatives from the farming community, food production and engineering.
The DUP leader and the party will gather in Belfast tomorrow afternoon to say farewell to South Belfast MLA Christopher Stalford who died last weekend. A funeral service for the former principal deputy speaker at Stormont will be held at Ravenhill Presbyerian at 2pm.
On Monday Sir Jeffrey will speak in London at the first British-Irish Assembly meeting since Autumn 2019.
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