UUP's Farrell quits with a parting dig at Mike Nesbitt
An Ulster Unionist councillor has resigned from the party after criticising the leadership of Mike Nesbitt.
Raymond Farrell a councillor in the party's Fermanagh heartland, said he had disagreed with the UUP's exit from the Stormont Executive.
"I am not sure the UUP leaving the Executive was the right thing at the time. The principle is that unionism needs to be working together, rather than fragmenting all the time," the 52-year-old told the Belfast Telegraph.
"We have shown here in Fermanagh what unionism can do when it works together."
But he also said he and Mr Nesbitt had come to a "parting of the ways" over the UUP leader's remarks at the party conference on same-sex marriage when he warned the UUP would be on the "wrong side of history".
"I have to answer to my own conscience. What he said was challenging my own convictions. I am afraid he is focusing too much on populist politics," said Mr Farrell.
"His remarks last weekend showed confusion and a leader should show leadership, not confusion." Mr Farrell, who resigned from the DUP about 10 years ago, said former broadcaster Mr Nesbitt read the news very well but "some might question if he's making it very well".
A party statement, however, countered: "The question of same-sex marriage remains a matter of conscience for individual members and so the policy has not changed and will not change under Mike Nesbitt`s leadership."
The Erne North councillor also cited tensions within the party - but would not name the UUP councillors on the recently-merged Fermanagh and Omagh council in whom he says he has lost trust.
Mr Farrell said he had been full of optimism when he quit the DUP for the UUP but intended "to go forward" as an independent in the immediate future. "This is not about Raymond Farrell," he said.
"I am going to think about what is the right thing for me to do
His resignation comes at a time when Mr Nesbitt's party has claimed membership is increasing, following the party's double coup in the Westminster general election - when former leader Tom Elliott took back the Fermanagh and South Tyrone seat from Sinn Fein and Danny Kinahan defeated DUP veteran Rev William McCrea to take South Antrim.
The party also had a strong showing in the local government elections last year and attendance at the annual conference in Belfast last Saturday was also significantly up on recent years.
In a statement the party said Mr Farrell's resignation was "regrettable" but that he had declined to meet party chairman Lord Empey and when Mr Elliott made contact, his "decision had already been made".