First Minister Peter Robinson's prediction that the DUP will be winning Catholic votes could be realised sooner than even he thought.
Councillor Adam Harbinson, co-opted on to North Down Borough Council following the death of Catholic Alliance representative Tony Hill, has quit the party and is considering joining the Democratic Unionists.
Mr Harbinson has defended his right to leave the Alliance party over its decision to back same sex marriage -ndash; but the move has provoked a vitriolic reaction from his former colleagues who accuse him of using the issue as "a smokescreen to hide his own personal interests and lack of integrity."
Mr Harbinson says he has not made a decision on joining the DUP yet and that he had gone to the conference at Councillor Peter Weir's invitation out of curiosity. "I was quite surprised to be led up to the front to a reserved seat and all the cameras trained on me. I didn't mind it though and I have no regrets," he adds. He is confident that he retains the support of those who voted the late Tony Hill on to the council.
Mr Harbinson said the decision to leave Alliance was "difficult" but that it did not come out of the blue as has been suggested (see Letters, page 10).
While his final decision to quit was because of the party's "unexpected" change of position on same sex marriage, Mr Harbinson, who writes a Christian column Wit and Wisdom, and works for the Citizens Advice Bureau, told the Community Telegraph he had already felt hamstrung by the Alliance Party's unwillingness to get involved in issues such as planning appeals which he said had been a problem for him "from day one".
"I understand that there are some within the Party who for whatever reason object to my resignation, but I find it disappointing that some have resorted to offensive and very personal attacks by email and social media. But be assured that the harassment, however extreme merely stiffens my resolve to stick to my guns," he said.
The North Down branch is demanding that Mr Harbinson resign his council seat immediately, saying that as a co-optee and not an elected councillor he has "lost all credibility".
Group leader Councillor Andrew Muir said: "We are all rather astonished that Adam has decided to leave the party and is considering joining the DUP merely eight months after being chosen to replace the late Alliance Alderman Tony Hill.
"Adam has no moral authority to retain the council seat won by Tony Hill and the Alliance Party. Adam communicated his decision to leave the party via email stating 'if a man does not have integrity he has nothing'. We therefore call upon him to demonstrate such integrity and allow the Alliance Party to select a new person for the seat."
He professed he was "amazed" that a move to the DUP was being considered and accused Mr Harbinson of being motivated by "self-interest and forthcoming elections" after he failed to win a seat for Ballyholme and Groomsport in the 2011 elections.