DUP Meltdown in Foyle over Devenney Dispute

The Newsletter reported yesterday that the DUP constituency association in Foyle is in turmoil after 20 of its approximately 65 members quit the party over the treatment of now former party elected representative, Maurice Devenney.

Devenney quit the party on Thursday after he had been suspended following allegations that he’d encouraged unionists to vote for the SDLP in the 2015 Westminster election campaign, charges that the former MLA has labelled as “spurious.”

Amongst those walking away from the party are two sisters of the long time DUP representative in the city and former Stormont Speaker, William Hay (now Lord Hay). The Newsletter report includes a claim by one of Lord Hay’s sisters that the DUP “just is not democratic any more.”

From the report:

In years gone past, she said, the party needed members to fund-raise and work for it but now the level of MLA expenses are such that “they just need us at election time” to canvass.

“We do the spade work at elections but when it comes to choosing the candidate, you’ve no say in that.”

The other of Lord Hay’s sisters to leave referred to her mother’s time in the party (Anna Hay was the first DUP councillor in the city in the 1970s), saying “this would never ever have been tolerated 40 years ago”.

It is understood that last July Mr Devenney put his name forward for selection as the party’s candidate for May’s Assembly election but that over a period of six months various senior party figures brought pressure to bear on him to withdraw his name from the process.

Mr Devenney’s supporters in the association believed that in a contest between him and the current MLA, Gary Middleton, Mr Devenney would comfortably win – even though DUP headquarters could disregard the result and decide to choose Mr Middleton anyway.

In the end, they say that a meeting of the association was called to “ratify” the choice of Mr Middleton rather than to select him.

DUP chairman Lord Morrow has previously said that Mr Middleton was chosen “unanimously” by the association and he was “the only candidate seeking selection” in a process which was “entirely open, transparent and conformed to party rules”.

Yesterday a DUP spokesman would only say: “We don’t comment on membership issues.”

There are rumours that Mr Devenney could stand as an independent candidate in Foyle. Yesterday he declined to comment further.

In 2011, the DUP candidate, William Hay, topped the poll in Foyle after the Ulster Unionist Party decided against fielding a candidate, leaving Hay as the only unionist in the field. In last year’s Westminster campaign, Gary Middleton took almost four times as many votes as the UUP candidate, Julia Kee, suggesting that, in the absence of an independent candidacy from Devenney, Middleton should still be able to see off any threat from an Ulster Unionist candidate in the race for the solitary unionist seat in Foyle.