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Party rebuffs Paisley's claim that he was forced to quit as leader Elected representatives tight-lipped amid fallout from TV documentary

Published 22/01/2014

John Manley Political Reporter

THE DUP has dismissed Ian Paisley's claim that he was given an ultimatum to quit as party leader.

In a statement addressing the allegations aired during Monday night's second instalment of Paisley - Genesis to Revelations, the DUP denied that a meeting took place where senior party figures attempted to force out Lord Bannside.

The former DUP leader claimed Peter Robinson and Nigel Dodds gave him an ultimatum to quit in February 2008.

"Nigel Dodds said to me 'I want you to be gone by Friday'," Mr Paisley told the programme.

"I just more or less smirked and Peter said 'no, no, no he needs to stay in for another couple of months'."

Lord Bannside said during the meeting he was given a survey by his special adviser Timothy Johnston which showed the former first minister's popularity among assembly members had plummeted due to his perceived closeness to Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

According to the DUP founder, the party's then chief whip Lord Morrow was also present at the meeting in Stormont Castle.

But the in the wake of Monday night's broadcast, the DUP issued a 'statement of facts', which said the events alleged by its former leader "simply did not happen".

"At no point were those colleagues named in the programme involved in any meeting where Dr Ian Paisley, as he was then known, was given an ultimatum to step down as Democratic Unionist Party leader," the statement said.

"Nigel Dodds did not issue an ultimatum that Ian should be gone by Friday nor did Peter Robinson issue any two-month ultimatum -- that simply did not happen."

The party said a meeting involving those named by Lord Bannside did not take place in February 2008 as claimed in the programme.

"A delegation was charged by assembly members to express their views on a range of issues to Dr Paisley - this meeting took place on 31st January 2008," the statement

"When the delegation relayed the opinions of assembly colleagues (they did not express their own views) Ian did not accept that the account represented the position of colleagues."

The DUP insists it was the former leader himself who asked for the survey of MLAs and MPs to be conducted by his special adviser to give "a general view" of his standing in the party.

The statement said the survey was carried out and given to Lord Bannside in early February.

It claimed that on March 4 the leader sought a meeting with his then deputy Mr Robinson where he indicated his intention to retire after an investment conference scheduled to take place two months later.

"As Lord Bannside has said in several interviews and in correspondence, he chose his time of retirement, not anyone else, as has now been suggested," the statement read.

"The party is saddened by this turn of events and has only chosen to correct some of the main inaccuracies. A running commentary is unedifying. "

The statement concluded by thanking Mr Paisley for the "good things" he did to bring about political progress. It said the party would be making no further comment.

THE DUP appears determined to keep its elected representatives silent on the fallout from the Paisley documentary.

All comment relating to Eamonn Mallie's explosive interviews is being issued centrally from the party's east Belfast headquarters. Interview requests and calls to individual MPs, MLAs and councillors are met with a polite silence.

The party is known for its tight internal discipline, a reputation borne out over recent days as journalists forlornly seek a fresh news angle on the biggest story of the year so far. It appears the DUP strategy is to evade public scrutiny on the impact of Lord Bannside's revelations and hope the media's appetite for the story wanes.