A prominent DUP councillor has written to the party officers to say that the party’s founder, Ian Paisley, “must be turning in his grave” at the DUP’s first openly gay councillor.
In a letter sent prior to last week’s council election which has been obtained by the News Letter, Ballymoney councillor John Finlay said that the DUP’s choice of Alison Bennington to stand for election in Glengormley had been “foolish” and sent “confusing signals to our support base which has consistently welcomed our strong stand on LGBT issues”.
Last week Ms Bennington was elected as a DUP councillor, an historic moment for a party which once led the campaign to ‘save Ulster from sodomy’.
She has declined to do interviews but senior party figures have made clear their support for her, despite condemnation from the Free Presbyterian Church, which historically has been close to the DUP.
Mr Finlay, a past party officer, said he wanted to “place on record my deep concern about the decision to select an openly gay candidate” and said he was “very upset” at how Ms Bennington had been chosen “as many within the party were totally unaware of it until it was announced at the launch of the local government manifesto, where she was given a prominent role”.
He said there was “some truth” in the argument that candidates should be selected on merit, that there must be equality of opportunity, and that a candidate’s private life is not a matter for public discussion. But he argued that those assertions “do not really address the issue”.
He went on: “The candidate in question, Ms Alison Bennington, is openly gay. She has, apparently, previously indicated that she is in favour of same-sex marriage through a post on her Facebook page.
“This sends out, at best, confusing signals to our support base which has consistently welcomed our strong stand on LGBT issues ... but that support is clearly now being placed in jeopardy by the foolish decision in select Alison Bennington.”
Mr Finlay said that it seemed clear to him “that we will lose votes on May 2 as a result of the Bennington decision” and that “our traditional support base cannot be taken for granted”. He added: “I can feel the palpable sense of anger on the doorsteps and in various messages I have been receiving.”
He said he was “particularly disappointed that party officers who are committed Christians have either supported Ms Bennington’s candidature or remained ominously silent”.
Mr Finlay concluded by saying: “I accept that society’s morals are changing, but not for the better, and we need to be prepared to continue to swim against the secular and godless tide. That has always been the DUP’s strength, and we compromise on these matters at our peril. Dr Paisley must be turning in his grave.”
When contacted by the News Letter, Mr Finlay – who was re-elected last week with an increased vote – said he was “amazed at how a private letter had got into the public domain” and said that he did not want to comment further.
A DUP spokesman declined to comment.
Last year Mr Finlay organised a rally in support of North Antrim MP Ian Paisley after he had been given the longest suspension from the Commons in the history of Westminster over accepting luxury holidays from the Sri Lankan government before going on to advocate on behalf of that regime.