Revolt in the Antrim ranks…

Often some of the best journalism (like all politics) is extremely local. In fact that Antrim revolt was first reported in the Antrim Guardian yesterday. Here, with kind permission of the paper, is Conor Spackman’s fuller account of the DUP’s little local difficulties there:By Conor Spackman

THE six DUP councillors in Antrim are ‘absolutely opposed’ to the current direction being taken by party leader Ian Paisley, a party insider claimed last night.

A source close to the councillors said that they opposed a clarification issued by the DUP leader last Friday and warned that the current in-fighting was ‘likely to destroy the party’.

Dr Paisley issued a statement last Friday night, apparently under pressure from the British and Irish Governments, stressing that he would share power with Sinn Fein if republicans met certain conditions. That went further than his speech to the Assembly earlier in the day when he left out a crucial line from a pre-agreed statement, casting doubt over whether he intended to accept the position of First Minister designate.

When the Speaker of the Assembly Eileen Bell went ahead and interpreted his speech as an acceptance, 12 dissenters, including South Antrim MP William McCrea, issued their own press statement, adamant that Dr Paisley had not intended to accept the nomination.

That is believed to have incensed the Prime Minister who had expected Dr Paisley to read out the whole of the pre-approved statement and demanded that he issue the clarification. However the fact that Dr Paisley apparently bowed to the pressure has been criticised by DUP MEP Jim Allister – and now all six Antrim councillors are apparently following suit in a rebellion, which is believed to be led by
hard-liner Mel Lucas.

“The party leadership is doing exactly what David Trimble did. It is allowing itself to be pressurised by the Government despite the feelings of the grassroots of the party and of the unionist people,” the source said. “The party executive had made its position clear. There was going to be no jumping first, no designations until we saw action on the ground from the IRA in terms of the disbandment of the Army Council and dealing with their ill-gotten gains.

“They had to sign up to policing, they had to sign up to the rule of law and there had to be evidence that they were doing that over a credible period of time.”

The source described the 12 who had signed the statement as ’12 disciples’. “They were right to issue that statement because there was to be no nomination. The party leadership caved into pressure from Ahern and Hain and the councillors in Antrim believe that Jim Allister was right to go on the record to criticise him for doing that.”

The insider said that the DUP councillors realised that the party was being split and could be destroyed but were nevertheless determined to stick to their principles. “The difference between the DUP and the Ulster Unionists is that DUP members, councillors, MPs are loyal but they are more loyal to their country than they are to any party.

“They do not want to see the unionist people backed into a situation where the Government are forming an executive on March 24 on the basis of more promises and lies from Sinn Fein.”

The source said that councillors put some of the blame on ‘latecomers to the party’, believed to be a veiled reference to MP Jeffrey Donaldson and MLA Arlene Foster, both of whom are regarded as moderate.

It is believed that the South Antrim branch met on Monday night with Reverend McCrea and North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds, both of whom signed the original statement claiming that no designation had been made.