Basil McCrea and John McCallister launch new political party NI21
Basil McCrea and John McCallister have launched their new political party at The Mac in Belfast.
Called NI21, the new party was formed after the two UUP rebels resigned in February over a decision to field a joint by-election candidate with the DUP.
At the official launch this evening, McCrea and McCallister said the party would focus on the future of Northern Ireland and "act in the common interest".
There was much speculation abut the name of the the new party this week after Mr McCrea registered the 'NI21' name as a website.
The party confirmed that it refers to the 21st Century, saying: "We believe it is time for a confident, generous and progressive pro-UK party to step forward and build support for a modern Northern Ireland in the 21st Century.
"In choosing our name, we aim to build on the Northern Ireland identity and offer voters, as well as those disengaged in the political process, an opportunity to support a new party – a party not tied to the baggage of the 20th century, legacy and conflict.
"In the post Good Friday Agreement Northern Ireland we believe every citizen has a valuable role to play in our society regardless of their religion, age, gender, sexuality or ability."
A statement on Basil McCrea's website said NI21 would seek to move the political debate beyond the "sterile politics of the past".
He pledged: "It will not duck the difficult issues, nor sit on the fence.
"It will provide genuine leadership, a stern challenge to the status quo and a viable democratic alternative to the current incumbents."
The launch takes place from 7.15pm on Thursday, June 6, with a huge emphasis on using digital and social media to engage with the public.
Who else is in the party?
NI21 says it had over 170 guests at the party's pre-launch in the Malone Lodge Hotel last month - and over 500 phone, email, text and personal enquiries to attend or participate in future events.
But who has been recruited to front NI21 alongside Basil and John?
Six members have been named, of which five are women and three are 30 or younger.
Party Chairwoman – Tina McKenzie
Tina is a successful and influential business professional with almost 20 years of experience in the HR services industry.
As a Managing Director and Sales Director, she has worked locally, nationally and internationally across many markets to include: Business services and banking; Health and social care; Logistics and FMCG.
Tina has recently moved back from GB to her native Northern Ireland. She is married with three children and lives in South Belfast.
Tina brings strong organizational skills to the party, working closely with the leadership, staff and volunteers.
Kirsty McClay is 21 and from Antrim. She has just completed a degree in Law with Politics in Queen's University Belfast.
Being a longstanding volunteer of the Spirit of Enniskillen Trust and graduate of the Washington Ireland Program, she has a keen interest in community relations and progressive politics.
As a young woman, Kirsty is a great role model for other young people in Northern Ireland who have felt that politics is not relevant to or for them.
Claire Martin is a 29-year-old divorced mother-of-one, raised and living in Castlereagh.
With a degree is politics she has always had an interest in local government, which was furthered during her income generation and communications work with some of Northern Ireland and the UK's most well known charities.
Claire currently manages one of Belfast's premier serviced office buildings and balances her busy working life with being a mum to her two-year-old daughter.
"As my life has developed and my family has started my priorities have changed, I know Northern Ireland can be better and this party represents working mothers like me who want a better future for themselves and their families.
"My daughter deserves better and Northern Ireland definitely deserves better, we can make huge changes together but it has taken the strength of Basil McCrea to fight for our right to make those changes one voice at a time."
Suzanne Chalkley is a 45-year-old, single mum to Hannah, 21 and Jordan, 17.
As a qualified nutritional consultant she has been running her own health and nutritional business for the past 17 years, originally from Derry but now living in Moy, Suzanne had immigrated to Australia in 1987 and returned to NI in 1996 after the ceasefire was announced.
By her own admission she had been a typical non-voter, except for supporting the Good Friday Agreement.
As a mother, lecturer, author and business woman, Suzanne believes politics in NI needs to radically change to help families and businesses meet modern day challenges.
Connor Clements, 30, is currently living in County Armagh. He was educated at Queens University Belfast and graduated with an MA in film.
He has worked in a variety of jobs related to the creative arts, most notably as writer and director in short films, and more recently in post-production on larger projects.
Connor has an interest in social, economic, political and cultural issues. His focus is on democracy, pluralism, and consensus and believes we all need to show respect for other traditions.
Maria O’Connor, 44, is married with five daughters. She is a businesswoman who currently employs over 70 people locally in Northern Ireland.
Maria studied History and English at Queens and has a post graduate diploma in International Marketing at UCD as well as a Master's in Business Studies from the Smurfit Business School at UCD.
Among Maria’s busy schedule she is also currently studying a law degree at Queens.
Maria has worked for international company CISCO Systems in both California, where she lived for five years, and Amsterdam but has always call Northern Ireland ‘home’.
Maria is interested in politics because she wants to make a difference in the local community with focus on issues such as job creation.
NI21 explains why a new political party is needed in Northern Ireland.
Differences between NI21 and Alliance
"One of the main differences between ourselves and the Alliance party is Alliance have sought to hitch a ride on the Sinn Fein / DUP Juggernaut at Stormont, content to be part of an Executive which has failed to live up to expectations.
"Our party will offer a robust and constructive opposition, standing up for struggling families and hard pressed businesses in Northern Ireland.
"As we develop detailed policies over the summer, we will show how as a party the citizens of Northern Ireland can robustly participate in politics while still able to celebrate and cherish their own individual heritage.
"Our party has been established to show Northern Ireland people are a diverse people, people who are capable of understanding we are all different and as such, that should be celebrated and embraced."
"The decision to run a Unionist Unity candidate in the Mid Ulster by-election did little to improve the political situation in Northern Ireland
"It further polarised our communities, with the potential to increase tension and reinforce the political domination of the DUP and SF.
"This political monopoly by the big two has not served Northern Ireland well. Self-serving, unproductive and ultimately unsustainable, their time in office has been a failure."
The Constitutional Question
"Our party supports unequivocally the 1998 Good Friday Agreement which settled the Constitutional Question that Northern Ireland remain as part of the United Kingdom so long as the majority of voters so wish.
"There is no prospect of a border poll in this election cycle or for the foreseeable future."
"We are a party which supports Northern Ireland remaining in the UK. We have said repeatedly that as we are required to designate as ‘Unionist’, ‘Nationalist’ or ‘Other’ in the Assembly, as a pro-UK party we will designate as Unionist.
"However, we also feel there is a debate to be had about the designation issue and our party will bring forward proposals in the coming months, along with a Private Members Bill for Opposition."
"To many families in our community, the word ‘Unionist’ has negative connotations. Not everyone who supports Northern Ireland remaining part of the UK can easily associate with the main Unionist parties or all that is associated with Unionist culture.
"Our party brings a fresh approach to politics in Northern Ireland, allowing people to celebrate their diversity and culture, celebrate their Irish or British heritage while comfortably remaining committed to Northern Ireland remaining part of the United Kingdom."
Why a New Party?
"Democracy itself needs a choice, and Northern Ireland needs a new political dynamic. For those reasons and for the many people who despair of the political landscape in a place we like to call home, we have concluded that a new political party is required.
"NI21's guiding principles are:
- A Northern Ireland party determined to represent all sections of our community.
- A party that is not afraid to speak out.
- A party capable of building a Northern Ireland we can all be proud of.
- An independent party which believes that Northern Ireland’s future is best advanced within the Union
- A party committed to the values enshrined in the Belfast agreement and determined to provide a credible alternative to the current political stalemate
- A party that does not need to wrap itself in a flag, to provide leadership to the people of Northern Ireland.
- A party which believes in individuals as agents of change, where religious persuasion should not define political beliefs and where matters of conscience are best left to the individual.
"Back in 1998, there was a sense of optimism in Northern Ireland. An historic international agreement had been reached on the way forward in our divided society. Whatever the logic for those divisions in the past, there is none today.
"We have accepted the challenge to build a new party but we cannot do it on our own.
"The unpalatable truth is that politics is too important to be left to the politicians. If the electorate wants better politics they will have to become more engaged in the political process.
"An informed and interested electorate is essential for democracy to prevail and Northern Ireland to prosper."