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Back with DUP: Defector Raymond Farrell who quit Nesbitt's UUP over 'lack of leadership'

By Noel McAdam

A former senior Ulster Unionist has rejoined the DUP, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

Fermanagh councillor Raymond Farrell's move is the first defection within unionism since the Assembly election earlier this month.

DUP sources said they were confident it would gain even more recruits from across unionism.

Mr Farrell quit the UUP last October after falling out with leader Mike Nesbitt over his softening stance on gay marriage and the party's decision to withdraw from the Executive after police stated IRA members were involved in the murder of Kevin McGuigan in Belfast.

The Ballinamallard man was approached by the DUP and appeared at its spring conference recently, sitting beside Mrs Foster.

She said: "I'm delighted to welcome Raymond into the party.

"He will be an incredible asset to the Fermanagh and Omagh DUP council group and will now, as part of a larger team, be better placed to deliver for his constituents.

"New members have been joining our ranks in recent weeks from all across the unionist spectrum.

"People are uniting around our leadership.

"Those who are committed to strengthening the Union and Northern Ireland will find a warm welcome in the party."

Immediately after her election triumph - retaining the party's 38 seats at Stormont - Mrs Foster launched a push to attract like-minded unionists.

The election, in which the UUP won back the 16 seats it held at the last poll following the high-profile departures of David McNarry, Basil McCrea and John McCallister, had seen the defection of the DUP's Jenny Palmer to Mr Nesbitt's party.

She went on to win a Stormont seat in Lagan Valley.

Mrs Foster said: "People are attracted to our vison for Northern Ireland and the clarity of our policies.

"They know where we stand and recognise that we are the best political vehicle to move Northern Ireland forward."

Mr Farrell, who was a local officer in the DUP for more than 20 years before joining the UUP, denied he was a "carpetbagger".

"When I left the UUP last autumn I did not knee-jerk. I took time to consider," he said.

"Rather than be a nodding dog, is there not a place in politics today for conviction? I am not a man for populist politics and I believe Arlene Foster believes in principled politics.

"I have known her for many years, hold her in the highest regard, and there has never been a cross word between us."

An independent councillor for six months, Mr Farrell added: "It is no secret that my decision to resign from the UUP was due to the lack of leadership offered by Mike Nesbitt.

"His leadership has been characterised by populist policies and short-term manoeuvrings.

"Many of my former Ulster Unionist colleagues shared my concerns about the leadership. They were prepared to stay silent because there was a perception of resurgence.

"However, Mike Nesbitt's approach brought the UUP its worst ever Assembly election result less than one month ago."

At the time he left, the UUP accused Mr Farrell of a "litany of failures".

It said he failed to attend meetings of the Ulster Unionist Councillors Association or the party's annual conference, and he failed to contact the party leader about his concerns.

Nonetheless, the UUP also said his decision to leave was "regrettable".

Mr Farrell said he and Mr Nesbitt had come to a "parting of the ways" after the UUP leader remarked that, on same-sex marriage, the party could be on the "wrong side of history". "What he said was challenging my own convictions," said Mr Farrell.

"His remarks showed confusion - and a leader should show leadership, not confusion."

A UUP statement said: "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 54-year-old father-of-three added: "I have received a very warm welcome within the DUP and would encourage other unionists to take the same step I did."

Belfast Telegraph

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