‘Is DUP still the party for me?’

‘Is DUP still the party for me?’

9 June 2021

ROWALLANE councillor Billy Walker could be the next DUP politician to quit the party.

He has confirmed last night that he is “seriously considering” his position after his fellow Newry, Mourne and Down Council colleagues Glyn Hanna and Kathryn Owen resigned at the weekend.

It is an open secret that Cllr Walker has been unhappy about a number of issues for some time and he revealed this week that he is taking time to decide his next move following the departure of his DUP colleagues amid claims of bullying and sexism within the party.

In addition to the resignation of Cllrs Hanna and Owen, Diane Forsythe also stepped down from her role as secretary of the DUP’s South Down Association following its annual meeting on Saturday night.

Mrs Forsythe — who is Mr Hanna’s daughter — stood for the party at the 2017 Westminster election for the DUP and polled 8,867 votes.

Cllr Walker says he is “acutely aware” that if he quits the DUP, the party will no longer be represented on the local council, something he agreed which would have previously been inconceivable.

He said he fully understands the decision of his council colleagues to quit, explaining that he will take the next few days to decide where is political future lies.

If he does quit, it is likely that he will become an Independent Unionist.

Cllr Walker said he was not prepared to “wash the party’s dirty linen in public” and while he admitted there are many good people within the DUP, he remaines unsure at this stage where his political future lies.

“I have many friends within the DUP and it pains me greatly to see the party pulling itself apart following the recent leadership challenge,” he said.

“The question I have to answer is very simple — is the DUP still the party for me? I fully understand why Glyn and Kathryn quit and have every sympathy for them. They have contributed much to the party and will be a great loss.

“Over the coming days I will be consulting with party colleagues on my next move. It is fair to say I am at a crossroads and concerned about the future direction of the party. I am also aware that there are other DUP politicians mulling over their futures within the party as well and that some could also jump ship.”

Cllr Walker said there were “rumblings of discontent” within the party and while he remains the local council’s sole DUP representative, that could potentially change.

“The past number of weeks have not been good for the DUP which is making headlines for all the wrong reasons,” he continued. “Given all that has happened, I will take some time to decide my next move. Whatever I do, it will not be a knee-jerk reaction.

“There is so much going on within the party that I need to step back and reflect. There are many across the wider DUP family who are very unhappy at recent events, including how party leader Arlene Foster was ousted and events surrounding the recent meeting to ratify her successor.

“What happened at the party’s South Down Association annual meeting last weekend is another issue which has concerned many in the DUP including myself.”

Cllr Walker said councillors are effectively a party’s foot soldiers who do vital work at grassroots levels and must not be taken for granted or viewed as being on the “periphery” by those more senior members higher up the chain of command.

He added: “No party wants to see any of its members resigning, but those who have done so to date feel they simply had no other choice. Despite what some might say, councillors are key cogs in any party machine but some have decided to vote with their feet and their decision has to be respected.

“There is something seriously wrong when people who have a long association with the Democratic Unionist Party decide to leave. It is a party that always dealt with division in-house but the evidence that this is no longer the case is there for all to see.

“There are a number of things that I have to weigh up before I decide if I remain in the DUP. I was elected in 2005 and while there have been many changes since then, recent events have been seismic. A major split has developed and large wounds have opened up which may prove very difficult to heal.”