NEW year is traditionally a time for fresh starts but there was to be no wiping of slates clean at Ballymena Borough Council at its first full meeting of 2008.
The bitterness between members of the DUP and their former colleagues spilled over once again and, if anything, was more deep rooted than ever before.
Councillor Robin Stirling started the new year with a motion (which you can read here) before Council concerning the First Minister, Dr Ian Paisley, which read: "Dr Paisley, in his compromise with unrepentant terrorists, has negated democratic principles, violated the precepts of Holy Scripture and outrageously borken pledges made to the electorate. Ballymena Borough Council urges the First Minister to follow the Biblical mandate, reiterated by himself over decades: 'Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate and touch not the unclean thing'."
The motion was eventually defeated by 12 votes to 10 but the result seemed almost an irrelevance following, as it did, hot on the heels of a heated and emotinoally charged hour-long debate.
Councillor Stirling said he was presenting the Council and in particular those he called the "New Age DUP" with a dilemma - how would they equate the present Paisley with the firebrand of an entire lifetime?
He added: "Was it a conversion of a political nature, perhaps with a spiritual element - a Damascus road experience? Or, as many of the New Age DUP would suggest, in apology, that Dr Paisley had no alternative - that the British government would impose a mysterious Plan B to green Ulster, prior to trundling us into a United Ireland.
"Now succuming to blackmail at the hands of the British government does not fit well with a leader who apes Sir Edward Carson, who donned the Red Beret and had his followers waving gun licenses on the Antrim Hills. What was the purpose of these histrionics, now a gross embarrassment to his supporters?
"We must decide if Paisley has really changed, the Damascus Road experience or did he engage in political expediency - stating, abjectly, that there was no alternative. In the lastter context we may recall that when Ddavid Trimble spoke of 'No Alternative' he was greeted by howls of derision and cries of 'Lundy! Lundy! Lundy! But who is the Lundy now?"
Cllr Stirling said he could present the Council with the resolution to the dilemma. He contended: "Dr paisley has suffered his lifetime from a virulent poison, the toxin of unadulterated, naked ambition. He had set his mind many years ago upon achieving his conception of wordly greatness... His path to earthly glory was pursued, of course, at the expense of the Ulster Unionists. He presented a bogus resistance to the Belfast Agreement and then stole it by an act of consummate treachery."
Cllr Stirling's motion was seconded by Cllr William Wilkinson, who said it was the perfect opportunity to measure promise versus product, honour versus expediency. He said it was timely to look back on the deeds and misdeeds of the past 12 months and to provide a critique of events.
Cllr Wilkinson noted that since 1998 the DUP had offered damning inditements of David Trimble and the Ulster Unionist Party but yet there were marked similarities between what Peter Robinson had said then and what he wanted to say in seconding the motion.
Government policy, he said, had been to reward to those who have done wrong. Democracy must not be held to ransom by the gunmen. Cllr Wilkinson said: "In 2007 we saw the ranson paid in full and over the odds."
DUP councillor Paul Frew pointed out that the former party members had all campaigned in the European Election of 2004 for the party candidate Jim Allister under a manifesto which said: "We believe that the best form of Government possible for Northern Ireland would be a Voluntary Coalition, where there would be agreement between the Government partners and a Cabinet exercising collective responsibility. We are ready to form such an administration with democratic parties including the SDLP as soon as the necessary arrangements can be put in place.
"If Sinn Fein/IRA are not willing to abandon all the trappings of paramilitarism and the SDLP are not willing to form a Voluntary Coalition, then rather than have a continued period of Direct Rule the Assembly should take decisions on a corporate basis as local councils do. This is not a perfect way to administer a region but is preferable to Direct Rule."
He added: "Without the DUP there would be no DUP ministers and there would be no assembly.
"We have pressurised Sinn Fein like no other party before us. We have pushed them into a corner form which they can't escape."
Ulster Unionist Councillor James Currie said he felt like a bit of an outsider as he was just a "simple Presbyterian". He said: "There's no disputing that Ian Paisley broke his pledges to many of his supporters. The saddest one of all was when his supporters were so vulgar outside the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church that they caused the then Lady Erskine to have a nervous breakdown, from which she never recovered."
He added: "I have always favoured sharing and partnership. I'm glad Ian Paisley broke his pledge because it has made Northern Ireland a safer place, particulary for the security forces. It's enlightening that Councillor Robin Stirling finds that Ian Paisley has done the same as David Trimble. The field was well ploughed and he had an easy job in harrowing it."
Cllr Currie went on to point out that the Assembly was the only government in European that hasn't got a genuine opposition, adding: "We need a good healthy, strong opposition."
Party colleague Neill Armstrong couldn't hide his glee at the sight of former DUP members lambasting their ex-colleagues.
He said: "We took at least five years of utter dogs' abuse and now the UDP have fully signed up to our deal.
We were upfront and honest with the people of Northern Ireland. In many ways it has been a very entertaining debate - it's good to see the DUP have followed us. We've done all the work and they've taken all the credit, as is often the way in life.
I'm also speaking for my fellow colleagues who lost out in the election, people like Peter Brown and Lexi Scott, who stood and fought for their principles."
SDLP councillor and MLA Declan O'Loan said the whole thing was "an irrelevance".
He continued: "Whether it's true or not, the point being made is no longer the point. While it may not be perfect, the Assembly is a lot better than what we had before and the vast majority of people do welcome that."
Referring to Robin Stirling's motion, he said: "These long speeches are utterly without point and make no contribution to the society in Northern Ireland of 2008." He said it gave him no pleasure to see the former members of the DUP making themselves "outsiders" and "irrelevant" and encouraged them to join with the rest of council in working together towards a better society.
Sinn Fein's Monica Digney was depressed by the rhetoric in the Council Chamber. She said: "It's a dreadful sadness to Ballymena that we are starting the new year with the same old mantra. You can say what you like about the Assembly but the harsh reality is that it's working - the health care centre came about because we lobbied and worked together.
"If there was as much channelled in to the likes of the Hope Centre, who are struggling to get bits of funding, then we would do a lot better."
But ex-DUP member Roy Gillespie was standing firm. He said: "IRA/Sinn Fein would not be in government without the DUP letting them in. I came into this Council with a concience of what's right and the truth. They have changed and by God's grace I haven't changed."
Councillor Gillespie went on to say he was not ashamed to have stood for the truth. He said did not trust in man any more. "You dare not trust your own. I'll strive by God's grace for truth and righteousness."
He added: "Over 300 Orangemen are in their graves and now our halls are being attacked. It's an attack on the Bible and on God's precious word."
Referring to the recent success of Ballymena United, Cllr Joe McKernan pleaded with local representatives to stop and think. "Perhaps we could become Ballymena United in our efforts not to argue for an hour about various points, which everyone holds and is entitled to hold."
DUP councillor Tommy Nicholl said Cllr Stirling's motion represented the latest in a string of false assertions.
He said: "I'm sure that many people will recognise the pattern that is beginning to emerge. NO-one in the DUP has ever said or thought that the current system and structures are an end of things or that the represent a final destination for the province.
"There are things that remain to be addressed - like moving to a more normal system of government and away from all party coalition, like the removal of IRA structures, like a resolution to parading disputes and so on.
"While Councillor Stirling and his colleagues continue to invent newer and ever more ludicrous false allegations, we shall set about the real work of finalising those things."
Councillor Sammy Gaston refelcted back to when he joined the Council as a DUP member and said since then the DUP had "stooped lower than a snake's belly". He said: "You either came in to stand up for your principles or you came for your own ends. The DUP leader has shwon that he came into it for his own ends. The Official Unionists went into Government with the SDLP - at least the Official Unionists were upfront. They weren't told lies in Hill Street.
"The leader of the DUP and the members that are left - not one of you have prinicples because if you did you wouldn't be in it today. It's all about power and money. The DUP's walking away with the big cheques."
He said the DUP had stamped over the graves of those killed by the IRA by putting "unrepentant terrorists in government".
He added: "I thank God for giving me the grace to pull out of it."
Wrapping up the debate, Robin Stirling assured Councillor O'Loan that he would continue to "produce motions to my own satisfaction".
He said: "The boundless treachery of Dr Ian Paisley, his deceit, his unselfconscious lying defies the use of superlatives. He promised that he would have McGuinness, Adams and Kelly, the entire Sinn Fein party in sackcloth and ashes. Not so. Sinn Fein are triumphant. Martin McGuinness promised many years ago that one day he would sit, at Stormont, with Dr Paisley in an Executive. McGuinness delivered; Paisley crawled."