Confusion reigns over Ukip spat as McNarry row councillor disputes 'suspension'
Ukip here faces a major split after one of the party's best known figures denied he had been fully suspended.
Henry Reilly resigned as regional chairman of Ukip Northern Ireland last month after an apparent dispute with the party's head in the region, Assembly Member David McNarry.
But after leader Nigel Farage's visit to Belfast on Monday the party issued a statement saying Mr Reilly has been suspended. A spokesman said: "Ukip has suspended councillor Henry Reilly from party activity. The matter is now in the hands of the general secretary, who will report to the NEC (national executive committee) in due course."
Mr Reilly, a Newry, Mourne and Down councillor, said action had been taken against him for a "minor technical issue" related to comments he made to the Press on the day of Mr Farage's visit about his resignation as chairman.
But he insisted he had only been suspended from certain party activities.
"It just means I am suspended from some internal party activities, but I am still a full Ukip councillor," he said.
In an interview with BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback programme, he added: "I'm not kicked out of the party. I'm still a fully functioning Ukip councillor. It is just an internal party issue that just needs to be resolved now."
It is understood the letter suspending him came from Ukip chair Steve Crowther, not its secretary Matthew Richardson. It was Mr Crowther who handled the recent temporary resignation of Farage and his rapid reappointment as Ukip leader.
Last night Mr Reilly was tight-lipped when contacted by the Belfast Telegraph. "I won't go into specifics or elaborate because this is an internal party process. If I do get put out, I will be free to comment."
Mr McNarry took a similar line. "I am bound by party rules and as soon as I am freed of those, then I will have something to say to you." Ironically, Mr McNarry was himself suspended from the UUP in 2012 in a row over an interview he gave to the Belfast Telegraph.
In the interview he revealed he had been meeting the DUP on behalf of the party to discuss closer co-operation at election time. Revealing these contacts was judged a breach of confidence.
Mr McNarry quit the party after Mike Nesbitt, the new leader, said he would not give him the whip back even after his suspension ended.
This present row started with a Northern Ireland Ukip meeting last month attended by Paul Nuttall, the national deputy leader.
One observer said: "That meeting deteriorated because David got really annoyed by Henry. After that Henry told Paul he was going to step down as chair." Mr Reilly told colleagues at the time that, as chair, he often had to bring problems raised by members to Mr McNarry. He felt Mr McNarry saw this as criticism, so he preferred to avoid the situation.
Since then Mr Reilly, a former European and Westminster candidate who narrowly missed an Assembly seat in 2011, has stayed mainly in his South Down constituency.
Mr Farage was in Belfast on Monday to launch Ukip's campaign against EU membership. Mr Reilly's absence was noticed at that gathering and the suspension followed when he commented publicly.
Mr Reilly said last night: "I never told anyone outside the party I had resigned as chairman."
Some in Ukip believe Mr McNarry will stand aside at next May's Assembly election and Joe Jordan, the former president of Belfast Chamber of Commerce, will contest the seat. Mr Jordan ran in the same Strangford constituency for Westminster and, judging by that, would be in the hunt for the last Assembly seat with the SDLP.
Mr McNarry could not, even if he wished, stand aside now and co-opt Mr Jordan. He was elected for the UUP, not Ukip, so his old party could nominate his replacement.