DUP members quit amid claims of purge against Poots opponents

Resignations follow vote to remove Glyn Hanna as DUP South Down Association chair

DUP leader Edwin Poots described the resignation of two of his party’s councillors in south Down as “peripheral” but said he would “continue to reach out to people”. Photograph: Getty Images

DUP leader Edwin Poots described the resignation of two of his party’s councillors in south Down as “peripheral” but said he would “continue to reach out to people”. Photograph: Getty Images

 

DUP leader Edwin Poots has denied a purge is being carried out against dissenting voices in the party, following the resignation of several members.

He described the resignation of two of his party’s councillors in south Down as “peripheral” but said he would “continue to reach out to people”.

“I think it is peripheral but nonetheless I don’t want to lose anybody from the party, and therefore I will be continuing to reach out to people to seek to ensure that we keep as many people as possible and to bring people into the party, and that’s a course of work that we’ll engage in because fundamentally the DUP is a collection of individuals, strong personalities but all of those personalities’ number-one focus is the maintenance of the union,” he told the BBC.

“We can’t do that in a divided way.”

Mr Poots was speaking in a Spotlight programme which is due to be broadcast on Tuesday evening.

Earlier, DUP deputy leader Paula Bradley rejected allegations of bullying and sexism linked to the leadership contest that saw Mr Poots elected as the successor to the ousted Arlene Foster.

However, Ms Bradley conceded that it may have been better to have conducted the controversial vote to ratify Mr Poots at a meeting of the party executive last month by secret ballot.

The North Belfast MLA, who was elected deputy leader in the same contest that saw Mr Poots assume the leadership, defended the party after a trio of resigning members made a series of incendiary allegations.

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 removal of Ms Foster and the subsequent election of Mr Poots.

They claimed they were victims of a purge.

Ms Bradley responded: “There’s been some unfortunate things that have happened, resignations that have happened, but I would definitely say we aren’t going through a purge.”

Move

The latest resignations followed a move to remove Mr Hanna as the chair of the DUP South Down Association, and Ms Forsythe as secretary, at an agm at the weekend.

Announcing his decision to quit, Mr Hanna alleged some party members had faced intimidation and bullying at the meeting of the DUP executive in Belfast last month, when Mr Poots’s election was formally ratified.

He claimed some of those who raised their hands in support of holding a secret ballot on the ratification were told to take their hands down.

Ms Bradley said she did not witness any such scenes at the meeting but she pledged to investigate the claims.

She said a secret ballot may have been a better way to conduct the ratification vote.

“If there had been a secret ballot, Edwin would still have won the secret ballot but, yes, if it had calmed what we have now, well then yes of course, with hindsight, absolutely,” she told BBC Radio Ulster.

Mr Hanna said a “purge” was ongoing against those who voiced concern at how Ms Foster was treated and who supported Sir Jeffrey Donaldson in the subsequent leadership contest.

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. – PA