Deputy leader Paula Bradley said she saw no bullying at meeting but another member who has also resigned backs the allegations
Two DUP councillors and a former Westminster candidate who resigned from the party amidst claims of a purge have branded an internal investigation into allegations of bullying and sexism “a farce”.
Newry, Mourne and Down councillors Glyn Hanna and Kathryn Owen, along with ex-South Down Westminster candidate Diane Forsythe, said they had little faith in the probe launched by DUP deputy leader Paula Bradley in the wake of their allegations.
Councillor Hanna and Ms Forsythe vigorously challenged Ms Bradley’s assertion that she saw no bullying at the Executive meeting to ratify Edwin Poots as leader 12 days ago.
Mr Hanna said Ms Bradley “was sitting at the top table as it happened”.
He claimed some of those who had raised their hands in support of holding a secret ballot on the ratification were told to take them down by Poots supporters.
One of those alleged to have taken part in this activity is a senior party figure.
An Upper Bann member supported Mr Hanna’s claims of bullying.
In a social media post, Roberta McNally said she had also resigned from the party.
“Having been at the meeting myself, I also witnessed senior members telling people to put their hands down to enable the vote to be open. It was clear that those of us who did put our hands up were being noted.
“The arrogance of some senior members at the meeting was mind-blowing. I personally, until now, have enjoyed my time in the DUP and it was a great privilege to be elected onto the executive. I am extremely sorry to say that I informed the Upper Bann chairman of my resignation,” she said.
Councillor Hanna said: “I have no faith in any investigation Paula Bradley has launched.
“It will be a farce and a whitewash.
“What does she need to investigate?
“All the party is trying to do is pull something back after the horses have bolted.
“I’m not a big fan of Sammy Wilson but he stood up at the meeting and made a wonderful speech pleading for a secret ballot and they still wouldn’t do it.”
Ms Forsythe, who was also present and spoke at the Executive meeting, said: “Paula Bradley was sitting with Edwin at the top table.
“I certainly won’t be taking part in an investigation.
“It’s an absolute joke.
“It was great to see the DUP put out three women MLAs — Paula Bradley, Joanne Bunting and Michelle McIlveen — on Monday for a media interview, although it is notable that this progressive move occurred when the party had to respond to allegations of sexism and bullying.”
Ms Owen said that an internal investigation would be “like me investigating myself — pointless”.
She said she had experienced “isolation and alienation” in the DUP.
“If you deviate from the script,” she said.
“If you even say there has to be a conversation of social issues, you’re shut down and shut out.
“I felt I was cold-shouldered on plenty of occasions.
“I hope that by standing up and speaking out now it will encourage other voices in the party to be heard.”
Ms Bradley denied to the BBC’s Talkback programme that a purge was being carried out against dissenting voices in the party. Rejecting allegations of bullying and sexism, she conceded that it may have been better had the controversial vote to ratify Mr Poots been conducted by secret ballot.
“If there had been a secret ballot, Edwin would still have won the secret ballot but, yes, if it had calmed what we have now, well then yes of course, with hindsight, absolutely,” she said.
The DUP deputy leader insisted that she saw no bullying or intimidation at the meeting, and pledged she would investigate any complaints.
Asked if people were told how to vote, she said it would be disgraceful.
Ms Bradley rejected claims that the DUP was now a “cold house” for women or moderates. She recognised there were divisions in the party but said it now needed to come together.
Meanwhile, Mr Poots described the resignation of councillors Hanna and Owen as “peripheral” but pledged that he would “continue to reach out to people”.
Asked about the departures in an interview with BBC Spotlight, which will be broadcast today, he said: “I think it is peripheral but nonetheless I don’t want to lose anybody from the party.
“Therefore I will be continuing to reach out to people to seek to ensure that we keep as many people as possible and to bring people into the party, and that’s a course of work that we’ll engage in because fundamentally the DUP is a collection of individuals, strong personalities, but all of those personalities’ number one focus is the maintenance of the Union. We can’t do that in a divided way.”
In a statement, the DUP said it regretted the resignations.
It said it took the allegations made “very seriously” and “any complaints should be made in writing to enable a thorough and fair investigation”.