DUP members quit party and deliver a scathing attack on Edwin Poots' leadership
Two DUP councillors are among a growing number of members to quit the party following the election of new leader Edwin Poots.
Newry, Mourne and Down councillors Kathryn Owen and Glyn Hanna and former Westminster election candidate Diane Forsythe, who is Mr Hanna’s daughter, are among a number to have left the party amid a bitter row over the ousting of former leader Arlene Foster and the subsequent election of Mr Poots.
Their departures follow a vote to remove Mr Hanna as the chair of the DUP South Down Association at an AGM meeting at the weekend.
Defeated leadership candidate Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said it was highly regrettable that “senior and valued members now feel the DUP is no longer a warm house for them”.
Ms Owen claimed women and moderates in the party were being left "voiceless," in a statement.
Mrs Owen said she had been considering her position in recent weeks, but resigned after witnessing the treatment of Mr Hanna at the AGM.
Mr Hanna, a member of the DUP ruling executive, openly criticised the party during the vote to ratify Mr Poots as leader almost two weeks ago.
Just in: DUP statement on claims by south down cllrs who have quit. Says it’s “disappointing” they have chosen to resign, the party takes these matters v seriously and that any complaints should be made in writing pic.twitter.com/JNjTZfoI2H— Jayne McCormack (@BBCJayneMcC) June 7, 2021
The two councillors are expected to continue as independents on Newry, Mourne and Down District Council.
DUP deputy leader Paula Bradley said there was no "purge" taking place in the party.
With hindsight a secret ballot should have been held to affirm Mr Poots' leadership but the result would not have changed, Ms Bradley told BBC Radio Ulster's TalkBack.
"With hindsight, if it had of calmed what we have now, well then yes of course [there should have been a secret ballot]," Ms Bradley said.
"With hindsight, and the ramifications of what has happened, then yes, it would have. I don't think the result would have changed in any way."
High profile DUP members expressed regret and concern about the party departures. Sir Jeffrey was quoted in the Belfast Telegraph as saying: “I fear that if Edwin fails to quickly get a grip of this situation, then many others may also conclude that the DUP is no longer capable of being a broad church and providing a home for the type of unionism we espouse.”
“Recognising that many within the party have serious concerns about the manner in which Arlene was removed, and about the future direction of the party, I have sought quietly to reassure those who supported me and who have contemplated resignation.
“Specifically, in relation to our South Down Association, I had encouraged officers and members to attend the AGM and to continue participating in the work of the party. These efforts were thrown back in their face on Saturday in what can only be described as a purge of loyal members who have served our party well, but whom some deemed unacceptable because they had supported me at the recent Executive meeting. There are elements running amok in South Down who are destroying any hope of building party unity.”
DUP Stormont special adviser Emma Little-Pengelly tweeted: " Devastated to see friends and colleagues in this situation. Diane is an exceptional woman with so much to give. I very much hope she will be an MLA in the future. Likewise, Kathryn Owen - a real star and hard worker. Glyn, a friend who has dedicated so much to party & Union."
Mr Hanna said moves to remove him and other office holders in the constituency represented a “purge” of those who voiced concern at how Arlene Foster was treated and who supported Sir Jeffrey in the subsequent leadership contest.
“I believe this is the beginning of the purge of anyone who spoke against the leadership so I encourage others in the DUP with decency and integrity to consider their position,” he said.
Mr Hanna claimed there had been “open and unashamed bullying” by some in the party.
Source close to Edwin Poots rejects the suggestion of a "purge" to oust some party members. They said Mr Poots had "no prior knowledge" of the moves in South Down to replace Glyn Hanna as association chair & insisted DUP leader is working to rebuild relations at all party levels— Jayne McCormack (@BBCJayneMcC) June 7, 2021
In a statement, Mr Hanna said he accepted there was a democratic vote to remove him as association chairman, but claimed "the lack of prior warning echoed how the Poots team treated Arlene Foster".
"If he was leader, Sir Jeffrey would have openly acknowledged the glaringly obvious divide in the party and worked to unite and rebuild. He would not have acted in the way of the new leadership," he said.
Mr Hanna also said the DUP leadership's actions would be "catastrophic for unionism."
"To be honest I have often felt the burden of being the face on the ground following the numerous bad behaviours in the DUP and ashamed of them," he added.
"I believe I will be a better councillor without the weight of the DUP on my shoulders."
In her resignation statement, Ms Owen said: “It is apparent to me that there is a purging of Donaldson supporters, and it is only a matter of time before this continues across the party. It would be against my principles as a veteran, mother and independent woman to stand idly by and allow this behaviour to continue, rewarded by my silence and inaction.”
She added: “I joined the DUP under Sir Jeffrey’s counsel. I believed wholeheartedly that the DUP was heading in a brighter direction, and I wanted to be part of that. It is now clear to me that this is misguided. No one from the Poots camp has reached out to me despite being a clear Donaldson supporter and friend.
“I have concerns over the future direction of the DUP, with many talented women and moderate individuals within the DUP feeling voiceless. The only way to stop this coercion and control is to remove the fuel that feeds it and empower those voices. My constituents care about their health, education, the protocol and the pound in their pocket, the current direction of the DUP does not place these concerns front and centre for their vision.”
Listen again: If you missed the new DUP deputy leader Paula Bradley on Talkback before 1 o'clock you can hear it here. @williamcrawley begins by asking if the DUP is going through a purge? #bbctalkback #DUP https://t.co/DWFRtXnDmE https://t.co/Ks3bPUjBwk pic.twitter.com/OOvV22Faam— BBC Radio Ulster (@bbcradioulster) June 7, 2021
In a statement, Ms Forsythe said she had faced “disrespectful attitudes” within the party, including “shameful sexism, ageism and the underlying tone of bullying”.
She said the bullying was now in “plain sight”, with members’ families “bullied and smeared” during the leadership contest.
“I can no longer be a part of this Party in its journey to derail my precious country of Northern Ireland in this its Centenary year,” she said.
She added: “The disintegration of this Party in recent times has left me no option but to leave."
“The Leadership of this Party chose not to listen, chose not to acknowledge the divide in the Party and repeatedly voiced their view that we need to ignore our differences and do what the Leadership says.
“The public ousting from all who supported Sir Jeffrey Donaldson in Assembly posts was bad enough but the local treatment of my father was an absolute disgrace.”
Ms Forsythe concluded: “The DUP have taken a path catastrophic for Unionism and I can only hope that it can be recovered in some way by other means.”
In a statement, the DUP said: “The South Down Association held its AGM on Saturday. Some of the members who have resigned, sought re-election to hold office within the Party. It is disappointing they have chosen to resign from the Party, following the outcome of the meeting. We thank them for their service. The Party takes these matters very seriously and any complaints should be made in writing to enable a thorough and fair investigation.”
Cllr Glyn Hanna - former chair of the DUP South Down association who quit the party along with Cllr Kathryn Owen - hits out at the current party leadership on #bbcgmu. He insists it’s not a case of sour grapes over the leadership election & claims “total purge” of moderates— Jayne McCormack (@BBCJayneMcC) June 7, 2021