Belfast Telegraph

New party implodes on polling day

Polling day in Northern Ireland has coincided with the apparent implosion of the region's newest political party.

NI21's European Parliament candidate Tina McKenzie dramatically resigned from the party executive as polls closed tonight amid an explosive fallout between its two figureheads and co-founders.

Leader Basil McCrea has been forced to deny claims of inappropriate behaviour, with deputy leader John McCallister claiming a shock policy reversal ahead of the election was engineered by Mr McCrea to force him to quit and thwart his efforts to investigate the claims against the party chief.

Mr McCallister claimed the decision to change the party's Stormont designation from "unionist" to "other" was a provocative move choreographed by Mr McCrea to force him out because he had challenged him about the allegations about his behaviour and was overseeing an investigation into the matter.

The South Down Assembly member alleged Mr McCrea was attempting to thwart the external human resources report he had commissioned into his conduct.

"The report comes to me, so if I was not in position, therefore, the process could be easily stopped," he said.

Mr McCrea and Mr McCallister, who formed NI21 last year after they acrimoniously split from the Ulster Unionist Party, were until recently close friends and tight political allies.

Mr McCallister claimed the decision to call the party executive together at short notice earlier this week to vote to change the party's Stormont designation was done purely to "muddy the waters" and force him to quit.

But he said there was "not a chance" he would resign.

Mr McCallister, in an interview with the BBC Northern Ireland's The View, apologised to voters who had backed the party in today's Euro and local council polls.

Mr McCrea denied the allegations of inappropriate behaviour.

"I am quite confident I have done nothing wrong," he told the programme later.

He insisted the claims were purely rumours and nothing specific had been put to him.

"If and when allegations come forward, if there is any name, then I will address them as best I can," he said.

The Lagan Valley MLA also denied Mr McCallister's claims about the motivation behind the designation vote.

"How would that work?" he said on the assertion he had tried to get Mr McCallister to quit

"It just isn't possible. That would be so cack-handed, how would that work?"

Mrs McKenzie, who emailed party members tonight informing them of her decision to quit the executive, was one of 10 candidates battling for Northern Ireland's three seats in the European Parliament.

More than 900 people are chasing 462 council seats in 11 new enlarged electoral districts with extra powers including planning and economic development.

Results from the European elections will emerge after all EU countries have voted and a central count completed on Monday. The outcome of the local government polls should be decided by Saturday.

The council elections are taking place amid the biggest reform of local government in decades.

The existing 26 local councils are being reorganised into 11 larger "super councils". After the poll, the new councils will operate in shadow form for a 10-month period, before officially replacing the current councils on April 1 2015.

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