Basil McCrea to formally take NI21 leadership
Northern Ireland's newest political party – NI21 – holds its first annual conference today.
The membership of around 100 is expected to ratify its constitution and formally elect Basil McCrea as leader with John McCallister as his deputy.
Around a further 150 supporters are scheduled to attend the event which will also confirm membership of its nine-strong executive committee, including chair Tina McKenzie and secretary David Rose, a former deputy leader of the UVF-linked Progressive Unionist Party.
Top-tier executive Mrs McKenzie made headlines recently when she spoke about her father, the millionaire Harry Fitzsimons, a former member of the IRA who is currently on remand in Italy, charged with money laundering linked to the Ndrangheta, a Mafia-style crime syndicate based in Calabria – accusations which he has strenuously denied.
Since resigning from the Ulster Unionist Party in June, Mr McAllister and Mr McCrea have so far failed to attract further defections from the UUP or other parties like Alliance.
But the Upper Bann and South Down MLAs both plan a series of major policy announcements in the months ahead before facing their first electoral test next May in the European and local government elections. Mr McCrea has indicated he would be aiming to secure 12% of the vote, and not all of it from the unionist electorate.
The party has still to decide on its European standard-bearer – although making clear it will not be Mr McCrea or Mr McAllister – and how many of the 11 new councils they will run candidates for.
McCrea and McCallister have already scored one significant victory at Stormont, winning the right to be called sixth – after speakers from the DUP, Sinn Fein, Ulster Unionists, SDLP and Alliance – in each and every Assembly debate.