Northern Ireland MEP Jim Allister tonight embarked on a political career outside the Democratic Unionists after he quit the Rev Ian Paisley’s party over its power sharing pact with Sinn Féin.
Mr Allister became the biggest casualty of his party’s decision to sign up to devolved government with Martin McGuinness in six weeks time.
However he insisted he was not asking others in the DUP to join him in a rebellion against the leadership.
The QC, who quit the party once before in 1987 in a row over its decision to enter into a Westminster electoral pact with the Ulster Unionists, did not believe Sinn Féin was fit for government because the IRA Army Council was still intact.
“It is with immense sadness that I must resign from the DUP,” he confirmed.
“To continue as the DUP’s MEP, it would be my obligation to accept the party executive policy decision to usher Sinn Féin into government in a few short weeks.
“This, in conscience, I cannot do. Thus, I must resign from the DUP.
“Sinn Féin, in my view, is not fit for government. Nor can it be in a few weeks.”
It is understood DUP chairman Lord Morrow of Clogher Valley and the North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds met the MEP in his Belfast office yesterday in a bid to persuade him to remain in the party fold.
However the image of two implacable enemies, Mr Paisley and Gerry Adams sitting side by side yesterday in Stormont sealing a deal for power sharing on May 8 was the final straw.
A senior party source confirmed: “There was a last ditch bid to persuade Jim to remain.
“But you are always fighting a losing battle when someone tells you their conscience is troubled.
“He will be missed. He was a good advocate for the unionist cause.
“However we would be very confident of getting the European seat back, whether Jim decides to defend the seat or not in 2009.”
Mr Allister’s resignation came as the Government rushed emergency legislation through the House of Commons and House of Lords to give effect to the DUP-Sinn Féin agreement.
Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain, whose Government was prepared to crash the devolved Assembly if the DUP could not sign up to power sharing, said at the start of the British House of Commons debate yesterday’s deal resonated around the world as a graphic manifestation of the power of politics over intolerance, bitterness and horror.
“These implacable foes have individually and collectively said that now is the time for Northern Ireland to move forward into a new era,” the minister said.
“They have together taken charge of the process from the British and Irish Governments.
“And, as a result, the political settlement that will emerge will be far stronger and more robust than anything imposed by Government precisely because it is grounded in local agreement.”
During the debate, Mr Paisley laughed off complaints that he had not shaken Mr Adams’ hand during yesterday’s historic encounter.
“This is not a love-in we are engaged in. It is a work-in,” he said.
“And when the people start to work for the things they need then we will get a cure for some of the things that are there.”
The DUP leader also claimed he secured a promise from Sinn Féin that republicans would address the need for justice for the family of murdered Belfast father-of-two Robert McCartney.
“We said it would be a great opportunity for Sinn Féin to do something with regards to Mr McCartney’s death,” he revealed.
“We did get the promise that something would be done. We look forward to something being done,” he said.