DUP politicians – from councillors to MP David Simpson – “snubbed” UUP Craigavon Mayor Colin McCusker’s installation dinner at the Civic Centre on Saturday night.
Around 200 attended what was described as “a great night out”. But the DUP’s nine borough council members, the two MLAs Stephen Moutray and Sydney Anderson, plus Mr Simpson were conspicuous by their absence.
UUP leader Mike Nesbitt was the main speaker, while other grandees from the party included Sir Reg Empey, Jo-Anne Dobson MLA and local councillors. Education Minister John O’Dowd (Sinn Fein) was there to support Deputy Mayor Catherine Seeley, while the SDLP’s Dolores Kelly MLA also attended.
The DUP’s “snub” is thought to have been a reaction to the UUP’s “pact” with Sinn Fein at the annual meeting in June. The two parties played the numbers game in a last-minute get-together which ended with McCusker receiving the Mayoral Chain and Ms Seeley named his Deputy. She was the first SF member to make a high office since the party entered Craigavon Borough Council in 1985.
DUP, who had provided six of the seven previous Mayors, were furious that their candidate Darryn Causby failed to make it, although he was later elected chairman of the new ABC ‘Shadow’ Council under the D’Hondt mechanism.
The DUP members greeted the McCusker-Seeley partnership with calls of “disgrace” and “traitor”. And outgoing Mayor Mark Baxter refused to invest his successor, the first time that happened in Craigavon Borough Council’s 41-year history.
Mayor McCusker was dismissive of the failure of the DUP 11 to turn up. “Television was good on Saturday night,” he commented tongue-in-cheek. “There was the X Factor, Strictly Come Dancing, the highlights of the day’s Ryder Cup, and Dr Who. I suppose that was as good a reason as any for them to stay at home.”
The ‘MAIL’ contacted a number of DUP members. One spoke of having a prior engagement, but admitted forgetting to proffer an apology. Another said some members simply couldn’t stomach the occasion, and rang in with an apology “giving the honest reason”.
Another was said to be on holiday, another spoke of “having better things to do on a Saturday night”. But one did admit that, had Causby secured the Chain, “then there would probably have been a full DUP turn-out with party officers and Stormont politicians among the diners”.
One prominent UUP politician said, “At least we had something stronger than orange juice to drink this time, and the music was terrific.”
A statement from the Civic Centre said that all DUP members had sent individual apologies.