The DUP’s Foyle association is in turmoil after the resignation of about 20 of the 65 members, several of whom are party stalwarts in Londonderry.
The News Letter has spoken to four of the individuals who have quit the party, all of whom said that their decision was linked to the party’s treatment of former MLA Maurice Devenney.
On Thursday, Mr Devenney, a former mayor of the city, announced that he was resigning from the DUP, just weeks after the party suspended him over allegations that he had suggested voters support the SDLP in last May’s general election.
Mr Devenney’s suspension came nine months after the alleged offence. The former MLA has said that the allegation is “spurious” but said that due to how the party had acted towards him he decided to not even appeal the suspension.
The members who have departed told the News Letter that they had left largely as a result of issues surrounding the party’s treatment of Mr Devenney, who remains a councillor on Derry City and Strabane District Council.
One of those who has resigned, along with his wife, is John Henry, a long-standing member of the DUP and a former councillor.
Two others are sisters of the former MLA and former Assembly Speaker Lord Hay, who also have been in the party for decades.
The News Letter has spoken to both, but they asked not to be named for professional reasons.
One of Lord Hay’s sisters said she felt that the party is “just not democratic any more” but is directed from Belfast.
In years gone past, she said, the party needed members to fund-raise and work for it but now the level of MLA expenses are such that “they just need us at election time” to canvass.
“We do the spade work at elections but when it comes to choosing the candidate, you’ve no say in that.”
The other of Lord Hay’s sisters to leave referred to her mother’s time in the party (Anna Hay was the first DUP councillor in the city in the 1970s), saying “this would never ever have been tolerated 40 years ago”.
It is understood that last July Mr Devenney put his name forward for selection as the party’s candidate for May’s Assembly election but that over a period of six months various senior party figures brought pressure to bear on him to withdraw his name from the process.
Mr Devenney’s supporters in the association believed that in a contest between him and the current MLA, Gary Middleton, Mr Devenney would comfortably win – even though DUP headquarters could disregard the result and decide to choose Mr Middleton anyway.
In the end, they say that a meeting of the association was called to “ratify” the choice of Mr Middleton rather than to select him.
DUP chairman Lord Morrow has previously said that Mr Middleton was chosen “unanimously” by the association and he was “the only candidate seeking selection” in a process which was “entirely open, transparent and conformed to party rules”.
Yesterday a DUP spokesman would only say: “We don’t comment on membership issues.”
There are rumours that Mr Devenney could stand as an independent candidate in Foyle. Yesterday he declined to comment further.
• Lord Hay’s brother in law faces 23 fraud charges
Lord Hay’s brother-in-law William Irwin faces 23 charges of false representation, an offence under the Fraud Act (2006).
The Newbuildings man will appear in Londonderry Magistrates Court on Monday morning. Court papers name Mr Irwin as “William Irwin” and the hearing is listed as being in response to a summons. It is believed that the case relates to expense claims while Mr Irwin worked in Lord Hay’s Foyle office.
Fraud is an ‘either way’ offence, meaning that it can either be tried in a magistrates court or in the crown court. Under Section 2 of the Fraud Act an individual who is found guilty can face up to six months imprisonment on summary conviction (in a magistrates court) or face up to 10 years in prison if convicted in the Crown Court.
Last year Lord Hay spoke about quitting Stormont in 2014, something he said was due to his health and not related to the alleged fraud. Lord Hay said he reported his concerns to police and said his conscience was clear.