Page last updated at 19:23 GMT, Friday, 10 February 2006

Resignation poses party maths problems

Mark Devenport
By Mark Devenport
BBC Northern Ireland political editor

Paul Berry's resignation from the DUP is a deeply personal matter. But will it have any wider political consequences?

Mr Berry withstood the immediate impact of the Sunday World story about his meeting with a male masseur at a Belfast hotel.

Paul Berry
Paul Berry became the youngest assembly member when he was 22

Mr Berry never denied meeting the man, but strongly contested the nature of the encounter. He said it was for the purposes of a sports massage.

After the story was published Mr Berry stood as his party's candidate in the Westminster election for Newry and Armagh.

His vote slipped slightly, but only by 1%. At this point the DUP was still standing by their man.

But later the party launched disciplinary proceedings against the assembly member. Mr Berry retaliated with a legal action of his own.

This was the action which came to an end in Northern Ireland's High Court on Friday with Mr Berry agreeing to pay a portion of the DUP's costs.

Mr Berry has made it clear that he intends to continue to represent Newry and Armagh as an assembly member and to remain as a member of Armagh council.

Random interviews conducted by the BBC on the streets of Mr Berry's home town of Tandragee reveal some disquiet, but also a fair degree of appreciation of the young politician's work for his area.

Mr Berry denies that the nature of his meeting with the masseur was sexual and has brought legal proceedings against the Sunday World for carrying such claims.

These proceedings are still active, limiting the discussion of the social and sexual implications.

Ramada Hotel, Belfast
Mr Berry denied anything sexual happened at the hotel

Scandals related to homosexuality have caused consternation to the Liberal Democrats.

So it's easy to imagine how much stress the allegations caused both Mr Berry's family and his erstwhile party colleagues.

Ironically, the DUP conference has just taken place at the same hotel where Mr Berry met the masseur.

It was picketed by evangelical Christians demanding that the party take an even tougher stance against civil partnerships involving gay couples.

Even though the protestors think the DUP is getting too "liberal" it's hard to imagine the day when an openly gay DUP candidate could stand for election.

If we have to tread warily on this ground, it's easier to comment on the mathematical consequences of Mr Berry's resignation.

Both Sinn Fein and the Alliance argue that by reducing the DUP's assembly team from 33 to 32, Mr Berry's resignation will reduce the party's entitlement to ministerial places in a future executive.

According to this calculation the DUP, which had been expecting to get four seats, would be reduced to just three. Sinn Fein, which had been due to have two ministers, would now get three.

This is all pretty academic as the chances of a power-sharing executive being restored anytime soon are, by common consent, practically zero.

However, the government had been intending to do a similar sum when it reconstitutes the Policing Board on 1 April.

Policing Board
The resignation may have an impact on the make up of the Policing Board

This was due to see the DUP team on the board increase by one to four, whilst Peter Hain intended to keep two seats warm for Sinn Fein, with the assumption being that they would go to independent nationalists if republicans refused to take them.

However, Alliance maintains that the Berry resignation has thrown this all up into the air.

They say the DUP should get just three places whilst, if Peter Hain sticks to his plan, he should be keeping three places warm for Sinn Fein.

Alliance points out that if this happens the board will become even more of an unelected quango than ever, as the elected politicians will only hold seven places on the 19 strong body.

This, Alliance says, will contravene the wishes of the police review team led by the former Conservative minister, Lord Patten. DUP sources brush off the argument.

They believe they will still get their four places.

Government sources acknowledge that the mathematical change has caught them unawares.

They are currently close to finishing interviews for the independent members of the board.

Then they will invite the parties to put forward their political nominees. And will the DUP have four or three?

Officials won't answer that until nearer to April Fool's Day, which is the deadline for the new board to be formed.

Suspended Berry resigns from DUP
10 Feb 06 |  Northern Ireland

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Sign in

BBC navigation

Copyright © 2018 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific