Belfast Telegraph

It was all laughs at NI21 party launch... but just 11 hours later Basil put his foot in it as he seemed to back polygamy on radio

Launched with razzmatazz and glitz...but within 24 hours new party is hit by controversy

By Liam Clarke

IT hasn't taken long for Northern Ireland's newest political party to become embroiled in controversy.

The state should keep its nose out of polygamous relationships, in which one man has a harem of several wives, according to Basil McCrea, leader of NI21.

It was car crash radio.

Just 11 hours after the polished and glitzy launch of his party featuring a raft of women office-bearers, the seasoned politician fluffed a series of obvious questions pitched at him during an hour-long live interview.

He gave several hostages to fortune. For instance he committed himself to changing the legal definition of a victim of the Troubles, insisting that several different types of victim should be recognised by law.

That is a can of worms but taking a 'let it all hang out' attitude to polygamy was the most serious gaffe in a party which hopes to appeal to women.

Polygamy, practised in the Old Testament and in some male-dominated tribal societies, is a crime called bigamy in the UK.

It carries a penalty of up to seven years in jail, but Mr McCrea didn't see any problem.

"Does it do any harm to any other member of our society? Is there some problem with this?" he mused before answering his own question.

"If there isn't then our position is this, the state should not be getting involved in issues that do not affect it.

"When you ask this particular issue I can say to you 'should the state be taking it upon itself people that are living in sin, that is to say not married, should we be legislating against people who are having affairs?' All of those things are none of our business," he maintained.

He went on: "It is none of my business how people choose to live their lives in complicated relationships, which is what happens in our society now, if you look at the changes.

"It is not the business of the state."

In cases of bigamy which come before the courts a man generally keeps his wives secret from each other.

Mr McCrea was clearly thinking of relationships in which all partners are consenting adults.

He was asked about polygamy after saying he supported same-sex marriage.

Opponents of gay marriage often argue that the next step will be polygamy.

He should have known that polygamy raises problems that don't arise in relationships where there are just two spouses.

In polygamous societies, wives must compete for their husband's affection and the first wife and her children generally have primacy over the others.

There are further practical implications for inheritance law and benefits like widow's pension.

Most seriously, children who are born into harems have no choice in the matter.

Legalising this would be very complicated and costly, and it is not on the political radar anyway.

Mr McCrea could have pointed this out instead of blundering into a "hey, whatever turns you on" type reply.

If you click on the "see our policies" button on NI21's website a message says: "NI21 will be developing a range of policies, please check later to see more."

The party plans to flesh out its policies over the summer.

That being the case it is hard to understand why Mr McCrea agreed to a 60-minute live radio interview in which he didn't prepare himself a little better.

"He shouldn't have agreed to more than 15 minutes," said a media adviser in a rival political party. "It was like amateur hour."

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