Belfast Telegraph

NI21's sole councillor Johnny McCarthy tells Tina McKenzie: I would love to see you back

By Noel McAdam

NI21's newest elected representative has appealed to deflated European candidate Tina McKenzie to stay in the party.

Johnny McCarthy, who was the only one of the new party's council candidates to gain a seat, said: "I would love to see Tina back."

But the 24-year-old who broke through to win a place on the new Lisburn and Castlereagh local authority also spoke of the stress Mrs McKenzie has been under since the public fall-out between its leader Basil McCrea and deputy leader John McCallister.

The two men were present at the European election count in Belfast yesterday – but as Mr McCrea arrived, Mr McCallister left minutes afterwards.

And both Mr McCrea and Mrs McKenzie revealed they have issued their own legal proceedings, though they refused to go into further details.

"I wouldn't be at liberty to say [who the legal action is against], but I am speaking to my lawyers," Mrs McKenzie told the Belfast Telegraph.

The Catholic businesswoman, whose campaign included posters in Irish, polled 10,553 first preference votes in the European race – despite NI21's high-profile difficulties.

The party was plunged into turmoil last week when it was announced it was changing its official designation at Stormont from unionist to 'other', alongside the Alliance and Green parties.

Then, in a whirlwhind 24 hours, there was further chaos after Mr McCallister revealed he had initiated an inquiry into claims of inappropriate sexual behaviour against Mr McCrea, who denied any wrong-doing.

There was some confusion among party workers yesterday over what happens now.

But Mrs McKenzie said: "I am expecting that we will be receiving some kind of report. I am also expecting that the Executive will be clear about their actions throughout this process and they will be vindicated completely. I urge people to not make any rash decisions or conclusions about anybody and wait for the facts to come out."

Mrs McKenzie quit the party's executive within hours of Mr McCallister's inquiry becoming public news and has signalled her intention to quit politics.

"We'll never know how well we would have done had this week not have happened," she said.

"The project has been a disaster electorally because of the actions over the last week, but these are people who stood up for fresh politics in Northern Ireland, there's nothing failed about that.

"Johnny got elected, who knows what would have happened, who knows how many others would have got elected? We will never know, and that's what failed."

And she spoke about the impact of the internal revelations on her.

"I am just a bit jaded, maybe I need to be a bit stronger. It's been a tough old week. Maybe you need to be more experienced in politics to roll with the punches.

"I am a woman of integrity, therefore when faced with some of the things I have been faced with over this last while – and it will become apparent what I have been faced with, and it will surprise many people. It will come out.

"I am taking legal action at the moment, I am speaking with my lawyers and it will become clear exactly the position," she said.

Mr McCallister also revealed yesterday he had spoken for 25 minutes with Mr McCrea on the phone over the weekend.

He said he had reiterated his view that Mr McCrea should stand down from the leadership pending the outcome of the investigation.

But Mr McCrea, who said he had come to the count at the King's Hall yesterday to thank all the people that fought his party's campaign, said: "I am not shy when it comes to talking about things but I cannot say anything because I am instigating legal action.

"My lawyers have said to me; 'You cannot speak'. It's an instruction and those matters will be dealt with through the proper channels."

It has emerged that up to 11 people who have worked for or were formally linked to NI21 have made allegations against the 54-year-old Lagan Valley MLA which involve claims of touching, emotional blackmail and bullying. He denies the claims.

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