A scandal-hit assembly member quit Ian Paisley’s DUP yesterday, potentially altering the make-up of the North’s political institutions.
Suspended DUP man Paul Berry made the announcement after abandoning a legal action against the party leadership.
The announcement was made in the High Court in Belfast, which was told that Mr Berry had agreed to pay #3,000 towards the party’s legal costs.
The Newry and Armagh assembly member was granted an interim injunction last November to stop the DUP going ahead with disciplinary action following newspaper allegations about his private life.
In a statement issued through Madden and Finucane solicitors, Mr Berry said he intended to remain as an independent assembly member and as a member of Armagh city council.
However, the implications of Mr Berry’s decision to resign from the DUP will have repercussions for his former party.
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 the calcualtions under the obscure d’Hondt system for sharing power, the DUP, which had been expecting to get four seats, would be reduced to just three. Sinn Féin, which had been due to have two ministers, would now get three.
This is considered largely academic as the chances of a power sharing executive being restored anytime soon are almost zero.
However, the Policing Board is also subject to the same calculation when it is reconstituted on April 1st.
This will see the DUP team on the board remain at three, whilst Sinn Féin’s two seats -- currently empty, but due to go to independent nationalists if republicans refuse to take them -- would increase to three.
The change could be used to increase pressure on Sinn Féin to take its seats on the board, one of the issues under discussion in the current talks process.
British officials have said that the mathematical change has caught them unawares. They are currently close to finishing interviews for the independent members of the board.