Belfast Telegraph

Future of party now seriously in doubt

By Adrian Rutherford

The first anniversary of NI21's launch passed largely unnoticed 11 days ago, and it is reasonable to assume the celebrations at party HQ would have been fairly muted as well.

The events of recent weeks could not be more different to the optimism of 12 months ago.

This is a party at war with itself, with the whole messy affair being played out in public.

The latest issue centres on the investigation into allegations of sexual impropriety by party leader Basil McCrea. He denies the claims.

Last Friday it emerged the investigation had been stopped.

John McCallister then gave an interview to this newspaper criticising the move. He suggested party chairwoman Jayne Howson's permission was needed for it to continue, and this had not been forthcoming.

This has been rejected by NI21's executive, who yesterday issued a statement to "clarify" matters saying it did not have the power to stop the probe.

Whatever the facts, the key issue is that these damaging disputes should not be debated in public by a political party.

It is hard to imagine any other party operating in such a manner.

For all its positive early spin, some suspected NI21 might struggle to get its voice heard in a crowded political arena.

That hasn't happened, but this is not the way it would have wanted it.

The big surprise is not that NI21 has run into difficulties, but rather how quickly and how badly things have turned.

The very public falling out at the top means there is surely little future for John McCallister, and quite possibly Basil McCrea – and given they are NI21's sole MLAs, the future of the party itself must also be in serious doubt.

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