In the latest twist in a political fall-out within unionism in Derry, former Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MLA and Alderman Maurice Devenney has this afternoon announced that he is joining the ranks of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP).
As late as yesterday afternoon, Mr Devenney appeared to designate himself as an Independent Unionist representative at a meeting of Derry City and Strabane District Council.
At the meeting in the Guildhall he said it was a “new way forward” for him, adding he would continue to work tirelessly on behalf of the people he represented in the community, nor would it dilute his unionist and loyalist values.
However, this afternoon he released a statement saying: “Following intense discussion within the broader Unionist family in the Londonderry District, I have decided after prayerful consideration, to join the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP).
“I appreciate the support from the Unionist family here, including friends, family and former members of the DUP, as well as from other Unionists.
“A more detailed statement will follow once I have consulted further with my legal team.”
He is expected to be formally welcomed into the UUP by party leader Mike Nesbitt at some stage this weekend. At this stage it remains unclear whether he will contest the upcoming Assembly elections, although the Foyle Unionist Association have already earmarked UUP Councillor Julia Kee as a candidate in the forthcoming poll.
This is the latest move in what has become an acrimonious political situation within unionism in Foyle over the last two weeks.
On February 11, it emerged that he had been suspended by the DUP over allegations that he had canvassed on behalf of SDLP MP Mark Durkan outside a polling station in Foyle during the last Westminster poll. The claim was strenuously denied by Mr Devenney who said it was a misunderstanding and added that he was seeking legal advice on his suspension.
However, the DUP issued a statement at that point and said the representative had 14 days to appeal the position.
Mr Devenney has been a councillor in the city for 11 years and is a former mayor.
He replaced William Hay in the assembly two years ago in 2014.
However, he resigned after just five months at Stormont and was replaced by Gary Middleton.
On February 16, Maurice Devenney announced his resignation from the DUP without taking full recourse of the 14 day appeal mechanism.
In a statement he said he decided to resign after “much reflection and consideration”.
“I have absolutely no intention whatsoever in making an appeal, when it is completely clear that there is likely to be a pre-determined outcome resulting in my membership being terminated,” he said.
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”.
A strained internal party position over whether Mr Devenney would be re-selected to contest this May’s Stormont poll was cited as one reason for the political fall-out.
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.”
At this stage in the debacle a statement from the DUP said: “Given the fact Mr Devenney chose to leave the assembly and concentrate on local issues, the widespread view of many party members was that he would not have been a suitable candidate.
“Unionists in the Foyle constituency know there is one unionist seat in the constituency and they are now well served by Gary Middleton MLA, a man whom Maurice Devenney recommended to replace him,” the DUP statement added.
In the wake of the fall-out there have also been claims that as many as 20 prominent members of the DUP in the city have walked away from the party and that these include many stalwarts of the organisation in Foyle.
One of those who has resigned, along with his wife, is John Henry, a long-standing member of the DUP and a former councillor during the 1970s and 1980s.
Mr Henry said: “When I first stood for the council elections, I stood because I felt I could help the people in the rural community, not because of money – there was none.
“In those days I was out of pocket financially doing my job.”
The party veteran continued by saying that there were people in the DUP who “are not in the party to try and help people any more, they are in for the love of the money”.
Mr Henry praised Dr Paisley’s leadership, saying that he was “a man we could depend upon” and someone who he trusted.
But, although Mr Henry said that he would not name individuals, he said that he did not trust the current party hierarchy, saying that “the party today, as far as I can see, it’s all money and they are just out to get as much of it as they can”.
Mrs Henry said that Mr Devenney had resigned “under pressure – and that pressure came from the top”.