Former DUP MLA Maurice Devenney on Tuesday night quit the party, accusing it of having “moved away from the democratic principles espoused by the late Dr Ian Paisley”.
The former Foyle MLA – who replaced William Hay in the Assembly in 2014 before resigning unexpectedly last March – said that he was resigning with a heavy heart after what he believed to be “a campaign of vilification against me”.
Mr Devenney’s decision comes just a week after he was suspended from the party on the grounds that he had brought the party into disrepute during last year’s Westminster election, when he was accused of canvassing votes for the SDLP outside a polling station, by allegedly asking DUP supporters to give their votes to Mark Durkan of the SDLP.
The 57-year-old former mayor said that he “totally refuted” the allegation, but said that he would not be appealing the decision “when it is completely clear that there is likely to be a pre-determined outcome”.
Mr Devenney, who has been a DUP member for more than two decades, said that he would continue as an independent unionist on Derry City and Strabane District Council.
He said: “It is quite clear that there has been a campaign waged against me over recent times...I refute totally that I was promoting the SDLP in preference to my own party at the time, the DUP. This campaign recently culminated in the receipt of an email from the party, suspending me from membership and inviting an appeal. After much reflection and consideration, I have decided that there will be no appeal and I have resigned my membership of the Democratic Unionist Party, effecting from 11pm tonight (Tuesday).”
He hit back at “spurious and groundless complaints” made against him, saying that when he had challenged “certain individuals” to reveal the identity of those making the allegations they had failed to do so.
Mr Devenney said he had “spent some time in deep and prayerful consideration over a number of months as to what to do” but he had concluded that “there is no future for dissent within the confines of the DUP”.
He also said that he had been “overwhelmed” by messages of support, many of them from DUP members from across the Province.
He claimed that constituency branches were “being used as foot soldiers when it suits” the party hierarchy, but that local branches now “have little or no say in the selection of candidates for election”.
He went on: “It was made clear to me that I would be endorsed by the local constituency association...for the Assembly election. However, it was also made clear to me that, even though I might be selected by the constituency association, I would not be acceptable to the party hierarchy and another person would be put forward. That to my mind is not democracy.”
On Tuesday night a DUP spokesman said: “Mr Devenney left the Assembly by his choice and has not been able to work with colleagues. Sadly in selections there are winners and loses. Given the fact Mr Devenney chose to leave the Assembly the widespread view of many party members was that he would not have been a suitable candidate.”
The spokesman added: “Foyle unionists know there is one unionist seat in the constituency and they are now well served by Gary Middleton MLA, a man who Maurice recommended to replace him.”