More NI21 turmoil as John McCallister is rapped
The bitter infighting that has plagued Northern Ireland's newest political party has erupted in public yet again, with NI21 now threatening its own deputy leader with disciplinary action.
Troubled NI21 has been on the brink of collapse since a major public falling out between leader Basil McCrea and his deputy John McCallister just before voters went to the polls last month.
At the weekend Mr McCallister expressed his anger that the party had halted an investigation into allegations of sexual impropriety by Mr McCrea with party staff –which Mr McCrea denies.
Mr McCallister said the probe being carried out by mediation firm Carecall was stopped because party chairperson Jane Howson did not give her permission for it to continue.
"I would welcome the process to continue, but it is not within my power to do that. The only one who holds that power is Jane Howson, who was appointed chair by Basil McCrea," Mr McCallister had said.
But last night NI21's executive committee directly contradicted its deputy leader. In a statement it said: "Neither the NI21 executive nor party commissioned this work by Carecall, therefore, contrary to Mr McCallister's statement, we do not have the power to stop it.
"Mr McCallister initiated the investigation, therefore all matters to do with the content of the enquiry and interviews have been discussed only with him and not with the executive."
The NI21 executive said it was now considering punishing Mr McCallister. It said that "given the serious nature of these events, the motivation behind them, their timing and the inevitable consequences of the same on the party", the executive "is currently considering what disciplinary action may need to be instigated against Mr McCallister".
The executive said Carecall was initially contacted by Mr McCallister without any consultation. It said Mr McCallister only informed it of his contact with the company a week after it had happened.
The NI21 statement said no complaints or allegations had been received about Mr McCrea, so the executive took legal advice on how best to proceed to investigate what Mr McCallister described as "rumours".
"The legal advice was very clear that approaching Carecall to investigate this matter was 'wholly inappropriate' and that another, more appropriate course of action should be followed," it said.
"This advice was passed to Mr McCallister, who chose to ignore it and the wishes of executive, who wanted to abide by that legal advice and proceed accordingly."
The party executive slammed the "wholly inappropriate and unprofessional way" in which details of the process had been leaked to the media.
It said should any allegations be received, they should be investigated by an independent body reporting solely to the executive afterwards "and not in what appears to be a piecemeal fashion to those who would seem to wish to make personal political gain".
NI21 promised non-sectarian pro-Union politics when it was set up last June. But the party descended into chaos after its executive proposed dropping its unionist designation at Stormont. It then emerged that Mr McCallister had initiated an inquiry against Mr McCrea into claims of inappropriate sexual activity involving female party workers.