UUP 'move on' in First Minister row
Published 24/03/2011 | 13:02
The Ulster Unionists have moved to defuse a public row involving senior party figures over the issue of a Sinn Fein First Minister.
The rift opened when former whip David McNarry accused fellow MLAs Basil McCrea and John McCallister of "sticking the knife" into the party after they appeared to question the UUP's position on the contentious matter.
Party leader Tom Elliott held an emergency meeting with the three men on Thursday afternoon and emerged claiming the wrangle had been resolved.
"They all put their points of view across and all accepted that they shouldn't have aired their opinions the way they did," he said. "We've all agreed to move on."
Mr McNarry reacted furiously when Mr McCrea and Mr McCallister said they did not have a problem with Martin McGuinness becoming First Minister if Sinn Fein emerged from the May election as the largest party.
That was at odds with the stance of Mr Elliott who has insisted the largest tradition represented in the new Assembly - unionist or nationalist - should hold the title.
He said that was the method set out in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement before the structures were altered, without a referendum, in the St Andrews Agreement of 2006 so the biggest party would take the post.
Strangford MLA Mr McNarry had heavily criticised his two Assembly colleagues for challenging the party line.
"I am afraid they are out of order and the only explanation for that is they are also out of control and the worse thing about it is it appears to me they really don't give a damn about the Ulster Unionist party and as far as I am concerned the pair of them could go tomorrow," he told Radio Ulster's Stephen Nolan Show.
Mr McGuinness has said if Sinn Fein topped the poll, he would be willing to rename the First Minister and Deputy First Minister roles "Joint First Ministers" in a bid to assuage UUP concerns.