NI21: Republican voters welcoming us with open arms
Published 16/05/2014 | 10:37
Northern Ireland's newest unionist party revealed it has been out knocking the doors in the republican heartland of west Belfast – and has received a warm welcome.
One voter for the hardline republican group eirigi even said he will give a second preference to NI21, the party said.
"That is absolutely true," NI21 leader Basil McCrea said.
The party is hoping to galvanise new and turned-off voters into giving Euro candidate Tina McKenzie – who has featured on election campaign billboards in Irish – and 47 council candidates their first preferences.
And it calculates it will also attract transfers from Mr McCrea and his deputy John McCallister's former party, the Ulster Unionists, as well as from the SDLP and Alliance.
However, Mrs McKenzie said: "This is an election like no other election.
"We cannot use the past to predict the future any more. People are in a new place."
Mr McCrea claimed surveys had shown around 40% of "non-traditional unionists" who were content to stay in the United Kingdom did not have any party to vote for until now.
But the Lagan Valley MLA also disclosed he had been out canvassing in Andersonstown for the first time.
He said some people were delighted the party had actually made the effort "because it showed that (we are not about) normal politics, and some people said we were very brave just for turning up".
NI21 became the last Stormont party to launch its manifesto yesterday with just a week to go before voters take to the polls for the double elections.
Mrs McKenzie said she was confident people were ready for change, but she and Mr McCrea side-stepped questions over what share in both elections the party needed to maintain momentum.
Instead, she said: "Every single person that votes for me will help make a change – we want to ensure politicians are focused on the common good rather than tribal division."
The Euro standard-bearer said it was essential for MEPs from Northern Ireland to shift from primarily selling the peace process – particularly with uncertainty over whether EU Peace funding will continue – to promoting the business skills and excellent products of the province.
"Our current MEPs are either lukewarm on Europe or openly hostile to the institutions. This helps no one," she said.
"The DUP, UUP and Sinn Fein are primarily focused on tribal divisions, so it is no surprise we are not getting the best deal from Europe.
"Northern Ireland needs an MEP who is not from the current Executive and who can genuinely help hold our Executive's performance to account."
Tina McKenzie is a Catholic whose father, Harry Fitzsimons, was a member of the Provisional IRA. The mother-of-three, who currently works full-time as the managing director of an international company based in Belfast, says she is proud to be Northern Irish but is "fed up with the failure" of current politicians.