UNIONISTS have reacted with surprise to the news that a former UUP councillor has switched allegiances to the Republic's Fianna Fail party out of frustration with Northern Ireland politics.
Harvey Bicker, a businessman from Spa in Co Down, was reported at the weekend to have joined Irish premier Bertie Ahern's party.
It's understood the former Army officer, felt the climate was now right to join Fianna Fail as he was now spending a lot of time in the Republic working alongside President Mary McAleese and others, on issues of reconciliation and military heritage.
The UUP's Edward Rea, who is Chairman of Down District Council, said his former neighbour had become disillusioned by politics in the Province.
"It's sad to lose any members but Harvey is a very independent person. He is his own man. He does seem to look towards the Republic.
"He is quite frustrated by Northern Ireland politics and feels that they (the UUP) are not delivering at all," Mr Rea said.
"He's very pragmatic about this. He thinks that Fianna Fail will have a greater future. He feels the Republic' getting on and doing the business. He's not afraid to step outside the box."
Despite their close friendship Mr Rea told the News Letter he did not agree with Mr Bicker's move to Fianna Fail.
"I am not agreeing with him. I am a great believer in trying to fix things from within," he said.
Mr Rea said Mr Bicker, who is in his mid-50s - has great admiration for business in the Republic.
"He's a businessman after all. He is more a businessman than a politician."
However he said, Mr Bicker had built "a lot of bridges behind the scenes" in Northern Ireland particularly among community groups.
He said Fianna Fail recruit, originally from Points Pass in Lisburn, had left Down District Council three years ago to take up the chairmanship of the National Park in the Mournes.
Meanwhile Newcastle UUP Councillor Dessie Patterson said he was "shocked" to learn that Mr Bicker had switched allegiances to Fianna Fail.
"I think it's unfortunate that Harvey has done that. He was a very good member of the Ulster Unionist Party and had worked for the party over a number of years," he said.
"He was always very dedicated. It is a bit of a shock that he has decided to become a Fianna Fail party member."
Peter Bowles, who took over Mr Bicker's District Council seat five years ago, said he was "surprised" at the news.
"I had no indication of this coming. I know him well and have a lot of respect for him."
Mr Bowles, who also left the Ulster Unionist Party, because of the agreement with the Progressive Unionist Party, said he had no problem with people joining Fianna Fail "per se".
The 27-year-old Conservative Party member said: "What I am surprised at is a Unionist of any persuasion or brand joining Fianna Fail. It has absolutely no appeal for me."
Meanwhile North Down DUP Assembly Member, Councillor Peter Weir said Mr Bicker's defection to Fianna Fail "was a reflection on the calibre of Unionism offered by the UUP".
He said: "Harvey Bicker was a senior Ulster Unionist who served on Down District Council for a lengthy period, his decision to jump ship to a United Ireland party is a damning reflection on the state of the Ulster Unionists."
Mr Bicker was appointed by President McAleese to the Council of State over three years ago.
Several attempts were made by the News Letter yesterday to speak to Mr Bicker.