Donaldson joins DUP as 'recruiting drive' starts

Mr Jeffrey Donaldson and two other former Ulster Unionist Assembly members finally joined the DUP yesterday as the Rev Ian Paisley…

Mr Jeffrey Donaldson and two other former Ulster Unionist Assembly members finally joined the DUP yesterday as the Rev Ian Paisley announced an imminent recruitment drive to lure more Ulster Unionists to his party.

Mr Donaldson, his Lagan Valley Assembly colleague Ms Norah Beare and Fermanagh South Tyrone MLA Ms Arlene Foster joined Dr Paisley and other senior DUP politicians at Stormont yesterday to announce their move.

The defections occurred amid bitter recrimination between Mr Donaldson and former colleagues in the UUP. The DUP's Assembly strength now increases from 30 and 33 while, with six MPs, it has one more Westminster seat than the UUP. Ulster Unionist representation in the Assembly drops from 27 to 24, the same as Sinn Féin.

Mr Donaldson, who accused Mr David Trimble of orchestrating a campaign to force him out of the party, said he was subjected to "vindictiveness" and "naked hatred" at a pre-Christmas meeting of the UUP executive.

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Mr Trimble, who travelled to London yesterday, was not contactable after the announcement but he earlier told the Belfast Telegraph that Mr Donaldson had acted dishonourably. "For someone to abandon the party which brought them to prominence is not the behaviour of an honourable man. Without the UUP Jeffrey Donaldson would be nothing."

Party chairman Mr James Cooper also railed against Mr Donaldson, saying there was widespread anger among Ulster Unionists who elected the three MLAs on a UUP ticket. "The clear democratic choice of the voters has been selfishly ignored by the three former members of this party who stood for election on an unequivocal Ulster Unionist platform and cynically used the party machine only to now jump ship," he added.

Mr Donaldson said he was "proud" to be part of the DUP. "Yes I stood in the election as an Ulster Unionist, but an Ulster Unionist with a clear policy position. I recognise that I cannot fulfil the mandate that the people of Lagan Valley have given me from within the Ulster Unionist Party because the leader's position is clear, he does not want change," he said.

Ms Foster said the DUP was now the "mainstream" unionist party. Ms Norah Beare said having been a member of the UUP for 35 years she found her decision extremely difficult.

Dr Paisley said yesterday was a "historic day" for unionism. It meant unionists were going forward, not back, and they were "certainly not going back to a table to try and get armed terrorists once again into the government of Northern Ireland".

Dr Paisley welcomed the former Ulster Unionists to the DUP and added: "I hope very shortly to announce a recruiting drive across the whole of the province, so that we can enlarge our party, and prepare for what is coming in the days of hard negotiation."