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Questions for Doug Beattie over secret talks with Sir Jeffrey

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Doug Beattie

Doug Beattie

Doug Beattie

Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie is expected to reveal on Monday details of his controversial meeting with the DUP’s Sir Jeffrey Donaldson.

Out of respect for the family of the late MLA Christopher Stalford, Mr Beattie has so far declined to discuss the secret rendezvous.

To date, only Sir Jeffrey has spoken publicly about the meeting. The DUP leader has insisted he never had any intention of rejoining his old party and portrayed the exchange with the UUP as more of a conversation on achieving greater cooperation among unionists.

“I am very clear, I had no intentions or plans to re-join the UUP,” he said on Thursday.

“I was approached, it was made clear I would be made welcome in the UUP and I politely declined their invitation."

The Belfast Telegraph understands that Sir Jeffrey did not immediately turn down the offer to join the party and that talks about the possibility of him returning to his old political home lasted more than 90 minutes.

There were further reports that Mr Donaldson was considering forming a new breakaway political party an assertion that has been dismissed as “irrelevant” and “nonsense” by east Belfast DUP MP Gavin Robinson.

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Speaking to the BBC NI’s Sunday Politics show, Mr Robinson said: “This is irrelevant, historical tittle-tattle.”

He said unionism was more concerned about the upcoming crucial Assembly election.

“There is no public conversation about this whatsoever. The public could not give a toot.

“They want to see unionists working together ... They are not delving back into tittle-tattle from 12 months ago.”

He admitted that last year was an “uncomfortable time” for his party, which faced serious internal divisions amid the ill-fated and short-lived period of the leadership of Mr Poots.

He categorically rejected suggestions that Sir Jeffrey contemplated forming a breakaway unionist party, fuelled by his failure to secure the DUP leadership at the first time of asking.

“This is a nonsense. People want to see a strong unionist support at this forthcoming election.”

The public, he said, was not interested in “revisionism” and he criticised reporting based on “anonymous sources”.

Lagan Valley MP Sir Jeffrey, who left the UUP for the DUP in 2003, was defeated in a DUP leadership contest last year but ultimately became leader a short time later when Edwin Poots was ousted after less than a month.

Ahead of Mr Beattie facing the media, here are five key questions that, up until now, haven’t yet fully been answered:

1. Who called the meeting?

2. What was the specific purpose of setting up a meeting of this nature?

3. If it was just a normal meeting between two prominent unionists, why the secrecy of holding it in an army barracks?

4. Did Sir Jeffrey understand the purpose of the meeting before he agreed to it?

5. Sir Jeffrey said he politely declined to rejoin the Ulster Unionists. But was this at the end of that meeting or did he ask for time to think about it?


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