Councillor quits DUP 'because of leadership'
Barr had supported MLA brother-in-law Jonathan Bell
DUP councillor Pamela Barr, sister-in-law to former MLA Jonathan Bell, has resigned from the party citing issues with the current leadership.
Councillor Barr had been deselected by the party to run in May's local government elections. She had been in the party for two decades and an elected representative in the Newtownabbey for 18 years.
In her resignation letter sent on Monday morning to the party's headquarters and seen by the Belfast Telegraph, the school teacher and mother of two said she was "hurt" by the recent actions of some but heartened by the private messages of support she had received.
Her brother-in-law, the former Strangford DUP MLA Jonathan Bell, broke party ranks in December 2016 to make a series of explosive claims about the Renewable Heat Incentive ‘cash for ash’ scandal.
Mr Bell was Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment, the department responsible for the scheme, during the time it was closed for applications.
Councillor Barr said she felt that under the current leadership her position in the party had become "untenable".
She said she needed time to collect her thoughts. Asked if she would be running in the next election she would only say she was "taking one decision at a time".
In the 2014 local government elections Mrs Barr narrowly secured her seat for the Threemilewater area with just two votes between her and the unsuccessful TUV candidate.
As chair of Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council's Policy and Governance Committee, she will lose the position for the final six weeks of the council term.
Party sources in the area said they were surprised at her move so close to the dissolution of the council, although acknowledged she was unhappy at her deselection. It is understood she was interviewed in the selection process by MLAs from Jonathan Bell's Strangford constituency and only narrowly lost out on securing the party backing for the May poll.
Mrs Barr had been encouraged to stay with the party. Sources said she was unhappy with the leadership of Arlene Foster and those "driving the agenda" to deselect her.
"She could have stayed in the background for 18 months or so and who knows the opportunities that would present themselves?" said one DUP insider.
"I don't think she would get elected if she ran as an independent in such an urban unionist area."
Mrs Barr had supported former DUP MLA Jonathan Bell after he stood as an independent for Assembly election in 2017.
"Ok she supported Jonathan Bell for his election which didn't go down too well. But I think people need to look at it in the context of she was supporting family," said our source.
In February after it was confirmed she would not be running in the forthcoming election, Mrs Barr said ended her tenure with her "head held high".
Jonathan Bell was suspended by the DUP following his public comments about the RHI scheme.
Mr Bell later stood for election in 2017 as an independent candidate after separating from the DUP in a move that was backed by his sister-in-law. Although he failed to retain his seat.
The DUP's leader on Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council Phillip Brett added: "I am deeply saddened by Pamela’s decision to resign, but respect her choice.
"I would like to thank her for her service to the party and her friendship. I wish her and her family all the very best for the future.”
A DUP spokesperson said: "Cllr Barr has indicated that she wishes to resign her membership of the Party. We are disappointed that she has decided to take this step but wish her well for the future."
Pamela Barr resignation letter in full
It is with great sadness that after 20 years of membership and 18 years as an Elected Representative, that I wish to tender my resignation from the Democratic Unionist Party.
I have been both disappointed and hurt by the recent actions of some and whilst I have been heartened by the private messages of support from many party colleagues, I feel that under the current leadership my position in the party has become untenable.
It is for this reason that I wish to resign with immediate effect.