Two long-standing members of the DUP in Foyle have broken their silence to speak about their decision to resign from the party following the suspension of former MLA Maurice Devenney.
John Henry and his wife Isobel, both in their 80s and members of the DUP for over 40 years, said they were “very hurt” and “disappointed” by the direction the party has taken post Ian Paisley.
Mr Henry, a former DUP councillor who topped the poll in the 1970s, was a cornerstone of the party working alongside the Party founder Anna Hay. But he and his wife said they no longer trust the DUP leadership.
“When I first stood for the council elections, I stood because I felt I could help the people in the rural community, not because of money, there was none. In those days I was out of pocket financially doing my job. I campaigned and got miles of water mains and electricity lines. There was none of that here until I looked about it.
“I was at council, to try to help friends and neighbours. It was not to get money, because there was no money in those days. I worked to get facilities, services and utilities for people, neighbours and friends.
A man of deep spiritual conviction, Mr Henry said: “I enjoyed it up until one night I was sitting in the council. There was a prayer meeting on in my church at the same time and the Lord spoke to me and told me I was at the wrong meeting. I left and I have been going to the prayer meetings ever since. I said to myself when my term was up I wouldn’t stand again, and I didn’t.”
“In the DUP in those days Anna Hay and myself just wanted to try and help people. We were doing our best and we weren’t in it for money.”
Quoting Timothy 1, 6:10, he said: “The love of money is the root of all evil, which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith and pierced themselves through with many sorrows, But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, Godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness’.
“When you look at what has been in the local papers and at what councillors get paid today, I think it is the region of £13,000 or £14,000 and their expenses, it is absolutely ridiculous. The people are not in the party to try and help people any more, they are in for the love of the money.”
Reflecting on the Party while under the leadership of Ian Paisley, he described him as “a Godly leader”.
“Ian Paisley was a man we could depend upon. He knew everything that was going on and he was a man who was in it to help the people. He wasn’t in it for the love of money and I had great regard for him and so had Mrs Hay.
“We trusted him, but you could not trust them today, no way. The leaders up there, this last while, I certainly would not trust them. Ian Paisley took his guidance from the Bible. The party today, as far as I can see, it’s all money and they are just out to get as much of it as they can.
“In those days we trusted the leader, but I wouldn’t trust...well, I’m not going to say anyone’s name ...and the leadership of recent times, all I can say is that I have been very disappointed and with the way the business has been carried on,” he said.
When asked about the recent trouble within the Londonderry Branch of the DUP, which ultimately led to the resignation of Maurice Devenney, Mrs Isobel Henry responded first: “Maurice Devenney withdrew under pressure and that pressure came from the top. Maurice done all the work.”
After careful consideration, Mr Henry said: “Where the nomination of the candidates for election is concerned, it was Maurice Devenney who would have been put forward by the local branch, had we been allowed to have a say.
“There are quite a number of leading people in the party who have resigned as well as me over this issue. Good, hard-working people for the DUP, people who at every election were out working; but they are gone.”
Naming a number of people and their family members who have resigned in the past week, he said: “There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that they are gone for good. The difference between Maurice Devenney and the rest of them is that Maurice Devenney is a worker, some of the rest of them are wafflers.
“In my time I have went round the country with a lot of people canvassing including with William Hay, with Mervyn Lyndsay, and with Maurice Devenney and Gregory Campbell,” he said.
Asked what they felt about the resignation of Mr Devenney, Mrs Henry said: “The night that they put up the name of the other person, at the last meeting they had, nobody was at it only their own clan. None of us went; 20 and more of us, all Maurice’s supporters, we all stayed away.”
“Those who were in favour of Maurice stayed away,” Mr Henry concurred. “It was a substantial number of people.”
Admitting to feeling “very hurt” by recent events, he said: “Maurice Devenney is a gentleman and has nearly done work for everybody. We had Catholic neighbours down the road and they asked me if I could do something for them. I said I would get Maurice Devenney and he arranged a meeting with the planners and they got permission to build their bungalow.”
Asked if he could see any way that the acrimony could be resolved, Mr Henry said: “I can’t see it.”
Mrs Henry said: “They called a meeting before Christmas to resolve it, but no. We went to the public meeting in the DUP office and they thought that they had got things settled. Maurice’s comrades were all there. I have never before spoken at a meeting, but I spoke that night. I could not hold my tongue.”
“I have been at least two meetings where Maurice went to tried to resolve it,” said Mr Henry.
“Then Maurice phoned one night and asked me to go with him to meet William Hay over at Gregory Campbell’s house. He did not want to go on his own. So I went with him. Maurice thought that they were going to iron things out. I thought an awful pity on Maurice that night. My last words coming out the door after the meeting were if I was up home and had a pencil and a bit of paper, I would be resigning’. They just scandalised him,” he said, shaking his head.
“I went with Maurice thinking that they were going to try and settle things, but the touch that they gave Maurice that night. They blamed him for a lot of the trouble in the office, and nothing could be further from the truth. That’s the main point I want to make. Maurice phoned me the next day and told me not to resign.”
Others within the DUP also urged Mr Henry not to resign that night, but since Mr Devenney’s announcement last week, they themselves have also now resigned.
Offering a possible reason as to why the attrition started, Mr Henry recalled how Mr Devenney had been offered a place in Belfast last year, as an MLA.
“They thought he wasn’t speaking enough up at the meetings and in the chamber in Belfast. As I said earlier, Maurice is a worker, not a waffler. They wanted to get Maurice out. That was headquarter’s idea but the local people did not agree,” Mr Henry said.
The couple also agreed that Mr Devenney was not guilty of canvassing votes for the SDLP at the Westminster elections.
“I can’t get over what was said about the voting station when they accused him of canvassing votes for the SDLP,” said Mrs Henry.
“Nobody knows who you vote for when you go in to vote and Maurice didn’t tell people to vote for the SDLP. That young man Durkan was down there and we stood and chatted to him down at Ardmore. We could have been talking about anything, but we were talking in general to him, because he is a nice fella,” she said.
Mr Henry added: “That just wasn’t true. We were talking to Mark Durkan down there, and they only used that as an excuse to try to get something on him. Nothing else. It wasn’t true.
“Maurice resigned before he was pushed. Now there is no rural councillor. They are all appointed from Belfast now, so there is no call for an office at the Waterside, because we have no say in anything. It’s a disgrace. I’m very badly hurt and I’m very, very disappointed in some of them, people I considered to be good friends.”