Belfast Telegraph

No £1,000 fines imposed by DUP, says Foster

DUP leader speaks out as 'gagging' row goes on

By Suzanne Breen

Former DUP councillor Ruth Patterson has said she has no experience of anyone in the party being fined for speaking to the media without permission.

Ms Patterson, who now sits on Belfast City Council as an independent, also revealed that she had never faced a financial penalty for disagreeing with other DUP representatives in City Hall.

But an ex-DUP councillor from another area told the Belfast Telegraph that they had witnessed the fining system in operation and that it was used against anyone who publicly dissented from the party line.

A DUP insider told the Nolan Show that elected representatives can be forced to pay a £100 fine if they speak to the media without first getting approval from the party's Press office.

It was reported that the penalty can rise to £1,000 for repeat offenders.

However, DUP leader Arlene Foster yesterday told the BBC that no one in her party has had to pay a £1,000 fine for talking to reporters.

She added it would be very strange if the party didn't have a disciplinary process.

The Nolan Show yesterday reported that DUP councillors could be fined £100 for opposing the party's collective position. A representative said that in the past they left the chamber to avoid speaking and hence avoid a fine.

Ms Patterson said: "During my time as a DUP councillor in Belfast, I was never aware of any system for fining people who spoke to the Press without permission from the leadership. Had there been such a system in operation, I would have been fined many times.

"My understanding was that, as a councillor, I was free to speak to the Press on local issues."

Regarding reports that councillors could be fined for speaking or voting differently to their party colleagues, Ms Patterson said: "I remember doing exactly that on a planning issue in Stranmillis and no disciplinary action was taken against me."

A serving DUP councillor told the Belfast Telegraph: "I am free to speak about local issues that affect my area. On matters of regional or national significance, particularly those which are sensitive, I have to contact the Press office in advance.

"I have no problem with that at all. It would be a crazy situation if you had councillors from all over Northern Ireland giving their views on, say, an Irish Language Act."

Regarding being penalised for voting differently to colleagues, the councillor said: "The party group meets and decides the position that is being taken. Once that decision is made, it is in the interests of party unity that everyone sticks by it.

"This is entirely sensible and normal. I believe that fining people is actually lesser punishment than having the whip withdrawn, which other parties do."

The DUP yesterday declined to comment when asked by the Belfast Telegraph how many of its representatives had been fined by the party.

A spokesman said: "The DUP operates under a constitution and a code of conduct for its members, which was passed by the central executive committee of the party.

"The chief executive, on behalf of the party officers, writes to members on code of conduct matters, as he is required to do from time to time. The party does not comment on its internal procedures.

"The party reserves the right to decide what programmes to participate in and the best mix of platforms to ensure ongoing communication with the people of Northern Ireland."

Belfast Telegraph

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