Belfast Telegraph

Tina McKenzie's parting shot: act like grown-ups

By Liam Clarke

NI21's European election candidate has dramatically resigned from the party's executive and delivered a blunt message to Basil McCrea and John McCallister – it's time to grow up.

The newly-formed political party has been in turmoil since its executive voted to redesignate from 'unionist' to 'other' this week, a decision that deputy leader McCallister said showed NI21 was "dysfunctional".

And last night the crisis within the party deepened when former chairman and European election hopeful Tina McKenzie told the top two that she was resigning from its executive.

Ms McKenzie also revealed that relations between Mr McCrea and Mr McCallister had been soured for months, and that she felt badly let down by both.

In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph she said: "I think they would be a good team if they could only sort out their relationship and find a way of working together. They could absolutely. They have both got excellent skills to bring to the table."

Ms McKenzie, a recruitment expert, sent her resignation to Mr McCrea, the party leader, and Mr McCallister, his deputy, shortly after polls closed at 10pm last night.

It is understood that most other executive members will probably follow.

She remains a member of the party but feels that it will serve no useful purpose to be "caught in the crossfire" between the two former friends.

She delayed her resignation and refrained from public comment until after polling closed in order to give the party's 47 council candidates the best possible chance.

She is a 66/1 outsider to get elected to Europe but, if it does happen, she will take her seat and "represent people on the basis of the NI21 manifesto".

The resignation is partly to encourage the two former UUP MLAs to make one last effort at reconciliation.

"It helps nobody if the executive continue to be used as a football between them" she said. "They need to meet and act like grown-ups, realising that they have responsibilities to everybody in the party. I hope that the political wrangling and the underhand tactics are set aside and that the two guys get together, have a mature conversation and provide some leadership to the people who have put their faith in NI21 at their behest. There has been very little communication between them. That has left me feeling disillusioned. The executive has been kicked about like a football between them so I need to take a stand and say that it is not good behaviour from either of them. It is not good enough for the party.

"I feel terribly let down by them; the party is let down by both of them and they should have sorted it out a long time ago."

She put most of NI21's difficulties down to the "dysfunctional relationship" between the two men which, she said, had made life impossible for the party executive of which she and they are all members.

"They hardly speak, and when they do they can't agree on anything. They disagreed on the election campaign. They have very different ideas about nearly everything you could mention. They just never agree full stop" she said.

She went on: "Despite the leaders' disagreement the executive had to take decisions democratically. We normally take a vote, we try to be reasonable and we try not to be caught between them, but when a vote didn't go John's way he went straight down to the News Letter to criticise the party and denounce the executive. That doesn't show great leadership."

The bust-up she referred to occurred early on Monday evening when the NI21 executive met and decided that, after the next Assembly election in 2016, the party would switch designation from unionist to the neutral 'other', used by Alliance and the Greens.

Mr McCallister claimed he was the only member to vote against the idea. In the following day's News Letter he denounced the party as "dysfunctional" and "crazy".

Ms McKenzie said: "I had no idea that John would react so strongly against the change of designation. If it was such an issue for him we would have talked about it a bit more."

Why she left the party executive...

“I am tired of the dysfunctionality between the leader and deputy leader. Relations between them have been bad for months. It has been bad since Christmas and the tensions started surfacing within a couple of months of the party being formed.”

Will she leave NI21?

“I am definitely not giving up on NI21 or leaving the party. I will never give up on the idea of NI21 or the message of building a united Northern Ireland, definitely not.”

Who she supports...

“I am supportive of the leader and I am supportive of the deputy leader too though I don't like what he has done. I am not on anyone's side, I am simply on the side of the movement into fresh politics.”

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