Councillor Robert Hill has quit the DUP after the party initiated disciplinary proceedings against him for publicly criticising South Antrim MP William McCrea.
The University DEA representative, who failed to win a seat on the new Antrim and Newtownabbey District Council, posted controversial comments about Dr McCrea on Facebook last week relating to his opposition to the Hightown waste incinerator plan.
The Glengormley man later released a statement expanding on the claims made in his Facebook post, again directing criticism at Dr McCrea.
On Monday evening, Cllr Hill, who was first elected in 2005, received an email from party secretary Michelle McIlveen informing him that he had been “suspended from the party with immediate effect, pending an investigation which could lead to expulsion.”
He was invited to attend a meeting of the party’s Disciplinary Panel on Thursday, November 6 to answer a charge of “bringing the party into disrepute.”
Shortly after being notified of his suspension, Cllr Hill, chairman of the DUP’s Newtownabbey Central Branch since its formation in 2007, confirmed that he was resigning from the party with immediate effect.
“The party has turned its back on the grassroots that made them the largest party; refused to listen to criticism from within and now is only interested in university graduates and big business. It is now afraid to make a stand, as seen during the flag protests, in fear of upsetting Sinn Fein and losing their well paid jobs,” he said.
“I will not be dictated to or threatened by people who have lost their sense of humour and will not listen to criticism.”
Cllr Hill had a previous run-in with party officers in June 2013 when he was disciplined for drinking a Bacardi Breezer alco-pop in a council meeting.
The incident led to him being dubbed ‘Bacardi Bob’ by his party colleagues.
He said that he will continue to sit on council as an independent member while considering other options.
Commenting on Cllr Hill’s resignation, a DUP spokesman said: “The party officers suspended Robert Hill’s membership pending an investigation which could have led to his expulsion.
“The suspension was made under our rules regarding a member bringing the party into disrepute. Robert Hill was invited to attend a disciplinary hearing but refused to attend and later resigned.
“Disciplinary action is an internal matter, therefore the party will not be commenting further.”
Cllr Hill’s criticism of Dr McCrea is the second controversy to hit the party locally in recent months.
In June this year, former deputy mayor Dineen Walker launched a bitter broadside at the DUP after she lost out on the mayor’s post to Alderman Thomas Hogg following a row over comments she posted on Facebook about Alliance MLA Anna Lo – remarks for which she later apologised.
She publicly criticised the party, claiming that it used her as “a scapegoat” in order to “take the flak off” First Minister Peter Robinson during the furore over his contentious remarks about Muslims.
She accused the party of discriminating against her because she’s a woman – something which it strenuously denied.
Following the controversy, Cllr Walker didn’t attend a full council or council committee meeting for more than four months, only returning to the chamber in October.
She was still paid her basic councillor’s allowance of around £800 per month during the period when she didn’t attend meetings.
The Times asked the DUP whether or not any disciplinary action was taken against Cllr Walker for her outburst against the party. It had failed to respond at the time of publication.