Evangelical MP defects to DUP
An Evangelical MP, well known for his Christian faith, has announced that he is joining the Democratic Unionist Party.
Jeffrey Donaldon, Member of Parliament for The Lagan Valley is set to take a swathe of Northern Irish support with him, having left the Ulster Unionist Party last month along with two other Stormont assembly members, Arlene Foster and Norah Beare.
Donaldson fell out with UUP leader David Trimble over the party's support for the Good Friday agreement and willingness to work with Sinn Fein.
He mounted a series of failed leadership challenges against Trimble and was eventually suspended having resigned the UUP whip in parliament last year along with two other MPs, David Burnside and Martin Smyth.
At the time of his resignation in December he revealed he was considering a longstanding offer to join the DUP.
Donaldson announced his decision at Stormont on Monday at a joint news conference with DUP leader Ian Paisley and deputy Peter Robinson.
His move bolsters the party's position within the assembly, having already overtaken the UUP as the single largest group.
The DUP now have 33 Stormont seats, compared to Trimble's 24.
Paisley's party also now become the biggest Unionist bloc at Westminster, with six seats to the UUP's five.
Donaldson said he had come to his decision following a meeting of the UUP executive before Christmas at which he was told to toe the party line, having stood on a separate anti-agreement platform during the assembly elections.
"I have never been to a meeting like the meeting of the party executive that day," he said.
"The level of vindictiveness, the naked hatred that was displayed by some members towards myself and other colleagues because of the stand we had taken during the elections was something I had never experienced before and I hope I never experience again."
"It was clear that Mr Trimble and his colleagues had orchestrated a move to have me expelled from the party because of the stance we had taken. I make no apology for standing by the principles that I believe in."
"They were principles that the Ulster Unionist Party held when I joined it 20 years ago. Principles that it was wrong to have in the government of Northern Ireland people who were linked to a terrorist organisation who continued to hold their illegal weapons whilst exercising democratic power."
In a sombre statement, he denied that he had misled voters by standing as a UUP candidate.
"Arlene, Norah and myself issued a clear statement which made it clear that we would strive for a better agreement," he said.
"We also said we would promote greater cooperation between unionists. That was the manifesto we stood on.
"And we received a mandate from the people to seek change and work for a better agreement and to cooperate with other unionists to achieve that agreement.
"Our mandate is shared by the Democratic Unionist Party."
Downing Street played down the significance of Donaldson's announcement as "entirely a matter for Jeffrey Donaldson and the DUP".
But there came a warning that attempts to overturn the peace process would be rejected by the government.
"The onus is on the parties in Northern Ireland to respect the overwhelming majority of opinion," said the official spokesman.
"We are going into a review period. it will be a chance for parties to put forward their ideas. We have to get agreement from the parties about how we revive the executive. The DUP say they want to be positive. Let's see what they mean."