A local councillor who quit the UUP last week in protest at leader Mike Nesbitt’s pledge to transfer votes to the SDLP has said she will continue to represent the people to the best of her ability.
Carol Black, a member of the Ulster Unionist Party for the past 12 years, accused Mr Nesbitt of destroying the ethos of the party.
She quit just hours after the UUP leader said he had no regrets about expressing electoral support for the SDLP.
He insisted he will stand by his vision of unionists and nationalists working in partnership.
Cllr Black, who won the high profile 2008 Dromore by-election for the UUP, wrote on Facebook: “Today I have resigned from Ulster Unionist Party after the comments made by Mike Nesbitt the Ethos of our Party is destroyed.”
Speaking this week, she said she will continue to serve the people as an independent representative on Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council. And she stressed that she has “no intention of joining any other political party.”
“I love being on the council and I love everything that goes with it,” Cllr Black said.
“I will stand proud as an independent and I am prouder than ever to represent the people of Dromore, Gransha, Quilly, Waringstown and Donaghcloney and I will continue to represent them to the best of my ability,” she added.
Alderman Jim Speers, the UUP group leader on Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Council, said he was disappointed but not surprised by Ms Black’s move to leave the party.
“We have a vision of unionism that embraces everyone, and clearly Carol Black does not subscribe to this, given her comments,” he said.
“We are a political party open to all faiths and none.”
However, Cllr Black insisted that her decision to quit the party was nothing to do with religion.
“I’m not saying that we can’t do business with our Catholic neighbours, but this is about looking after the unionist family as a whole,” the Dromore woman said.
“A lot of core unionists are not in agreement with the direction Mike Nesbitt is taking the party.”
Launching the party’s Assembly election manifesto in Belfast last week, Mr Nesbitt rejected any suggestion he had scored a political own goal and said criticism of his stance would not deflect him from striving for a “better” Northern Ireland.
A number of Mr Nesbitt’s fellow UUP election candidates have already made clear they will not follow his lead and will instead only support other pro-Union parties down the ballot paper in March’s snap Assembly poll.
The controversy first flared last Sunday when the UUP leader said that, after his own party, he would vote for the SDLP ahead of other unionist candidates.
However, Mr Nesbitt did not go so far as to say he would advise other UUP supporters to adopt the same approach.
The party leader said he was “relaxed” at the idea of colleagues taking a different position based on the electoral dynamics within their own constituencies, but he said he stood by his principles.
“What I am trying to achieve is a stretch for some people, it’s not going to be easy, and if it was we would have done it by now,” he said.
“But it’s 19 years since we made that commitment to a fresh start (in the Good Friday Agreement) involving reconciliation, tolerance, mutual trust, offering mutual respect.
“Those are the principles that I believe in and it doesn’t surprise me that people are poking fun or putting question marks against my motivation and all the rest - that’s life, that’s politics.
“I am not deflected, I am determined. Northern Ireland deserves better.”
Accusing the DUP and Sinn Fein of engaging in “dog whistle politics” to polarise communities, he said it was time to “forget factions and sections” and create a government that was “fair and honest for everybody”.
Insisting he retained the trust of party colleagues, Mr Nesbitt said the politics of “domination” had not worked in Northern Ireland.
“You can have domination or you can have partnership - domination doesn’t work, partnership does. It is the only pathway to reconciliation, tolerance, trust and respect,” he added.