DUP trio resign after leadership concerns

DUP trio resign after leadership concerns

9 June 2021

DUP councillors Glyn Hanna and Kathryn Owen are resisting calls to join other unionist parties after they resigned at the weekend over concerns about the direction their former political home is taking under new leader Edwin Poots.

Both stood down following the annual meeting of the DUP’s South Down Association on Saturday night when Cllr Hanna was ousted as chairman by a narrow margin.

His daughter, Diane Forsythe, who contested the 2017 Westminster election for the DUP, also resigned from her role as association secretary last weekend. 

The DUP resignations amid allegations of sexism and bullying, which the party has promised to investigate, follow recent tensions within the South Down Association understood to be between assembly member Jim Wells — a firm supporter of Edwin Poots — and members who had supported Sir Jeffrey Donaldson for the leadership.

Cllrs Hanna and Owen, who are also unhappy at the ousting of Arlene Foster as party leader, will remain as independent councillors on Newry, Mourne and Down District Council with the local authority’s remaining DUP representative, Billy Walker, confirming that he is “seriously considering” his future with the party.

Cllr Hanna, who represents the Mournes area on Newry, Mourne and Down Council, claimed no attempts had been made by Mr Poots to heal divisions after last month’s leadership election, while Cllr Owen claimed claimed women and moderates in the party were being left “voiceless”.

DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, who was defeated by Mr Poots in the recent leadership contest, has expressed support for those who have quit, saying it was highly regrettable that “senior and valued members now feel the DUP is no longer a warm house for them”.

Cllr Hanna — a long-standing member of the DUP ruling executive — said he would be a “better councillor without the weight of the DUP on my shoulders”.

And, accepting there was a democratic vote to remove him as association chairman, he claimed “the lack of prior warning echoed how the Poots team treated Arlene Foster”.

He declared: “If he was leader, Sir Jeffrey would have openly acknowledged the glaringly obvious divide in the party and worked to unite and rebuild. He would not have acted in the way of the new leadership.”

Cllr Hanna argued that the DUP leadership’s actions would be “catastrophic for unionism” and urged anyone with “decency and integrity” in the party to consider their position.

He continued: “To be honest I have often felt the burden of being the face on the ground following the numerous bad behaviours in the DUP. I believe I will be a better councillor without the weight of the DUP on my shoulders.”

Cllr Hanna said he did not like the way Arlene Foster had been treated, branding the process to remove from the leadership role as “nasty, and vicious and totally uncalled for”.

His daughter Diane who spoke at the recent party executive meeting in Belfast, said she received sexist comments.

“This undertone has always been there in recent times,” she said. “When I did speak at the party executive meeting, people that followed me got up and said that I should not be standing there ‘playing the female card’”, she continued.

Mrs Forsythe added: “I don’t need that level of disrespect. I just feel that my voice is better out of that party because it is clearly not being heard.”

Cllr Owen, who was co-opted to the local council in 2019, has confirmed that she had been considering her position over recent weeks, but resigned after witnessing the treatment of Mr Hanna at the AGM.

“It is apparent to me there is a purging of Donaldson supporters and it is only a matter of time before this continues across the party,” she declared. “It would be against my principles as a veteran, mother and independent woman to stand idly by and allow this behaviour to continue, rewarded by my silence and inaction.”

Cllr Owen said that women and moderates within the party felt “voiceless,” suggesting that the “only way to stop this coercion and control is to remove the fuel that feeds it and empower these voices.”

She said her decision to resign had been a very difficult one for her, one which had been troubling her for a number of weeks.

“I was pulling myself apart over it and was concerned about the direction of the party. Certain individuals within the party have gone to ground as they feel they don’t have a voice. There are many, many good people in the DUP and this isn’t necessarily me wanting to take a broad swipe at the party,” she said.

“I feel that I cannot be the best voice for my constituents under brand DUP where it is at the moment. We have to stay on and can’t go off it and what happened to Arlene was fundamentally wrong.”

Cllr Owen insisted that her resignation was not about sour grapes, appealing to the DUP leadership to reach out, as many others feels the way that she does, adding: “Leaving the DUP en masse is not the right thing for unionism.”

In its statement about the South Down Association AGM, the DUP said: “Some of the members who have resigned sought re-election to hold office within the party. It is disappointing they have chosen to resign from the party, following the outcome of the meeting. We thank them for their service.”

Last night Mr Poots described the recent DUP resignations as “peripheral” and said members of the party “have been bruised” over its leadership election and that the party’s issues may take “a little time to heal.”

During a BBC NI Spotlight programme, he said he did not believe there had been attempts to sabotage his leadership.

When asked about the “rift” in the DUP, Mr Poots said: “I think it is peripheral, but nonetheless I don’t want to lose anybody from the party. 

“I will be continuing to reach out to people to seek to ensure that we keep as many people as possible and to bring new people into the party.”