Belfast Telegraph

'I'm in the cold ... but I'm not going without a fight'

David McNarry believes he's being punished to appease MLAs who were kept in the dark about UUP-DUP talks. But he's not going quietly

I have been a member of the Ulster Unionist Party since I was 15. I have been a member of it through thick and thin, good and bad.

In that time, I have seen a lot of people come and go. Some come in, burn brightly for a while and then disappear. Others come in, then leave when they don't get their own way, or don't get selected to represent the party at an election.

Others come in believing themselves to have special powers and skills, yet spend most of their time courting the media for attention, rather than respecting the views of their colleagues.

Others still come in claiming to have the answers to all of our problems, yet never seem to get around to making the repairs they insist are necessary.

As I say, I have seen an awful lot of them come and go. But I have been a member for more than 40 years. In all that time, I have remained a devolutionist, arguing for it even when the DUP and some in my own party were arguing for integration.

I supported the political process that led to the Belfast Agreement and the Assembly, even though members of my own party and other unionist parties opposed it.

So I do smile when I hear some of my internal UUP critics going on about the 'heavy lifting and courage' of the UUP; they weren't even members at the time, choosing to join only after the rest of us had helped to secure peace and political stability.

Politics is no place for shrinking violets. I speak my mind. I defend my corner. I can be blunt. That's what politics is about.

But I didn't become an MLA by pure accident. I was selected by the Strangford Ulster Unionist Association. I was elected by a sufficient number of voters in my constituency.

They know what David McNarry is like, they entrusted me to represent the party and wider interests, and last May the party gained a seat in Strangford from the DUP.

So resigning from the Ulster Unionist Assembly group was not an easy step for me. I didn't take it lightly. I didn't just fly off the handle or throw the toys out of the pram.

Over the past few months, I have been involved in talks with the DUP. I did so with the approval and knowledge of Tom Elliott. And I agreed to participate in the talks because I believed that they were in the best interests of unionism as a whole.

What was I talking about, you ask? Well, those of us involved in the talks were discussing ways in which the UUP and DUP could concentrate more on helping each other, rather than harrying each other. There are a number of facts which we ignore at our peril.

The UUP and DUP do not represent the entire pro-Union vote. So it is important that we discuss ways in which we can maximise our collective vote: channelling our campaigning energies into reaching out and attracting votes that the other may not be able to get.

But there are also other groups and parties and communities within the pro-Union family. Some of them believe themselves ignored, or even discounted.

Again, it's vital that we all talk to each other and explore ways of persuading ever-greater numbers towards the ballot box.

It is very clear that divisions and bickering within the pro-Union family have cost us a few extra seats in the Assembly and possibly even an extra ministry.

Boundary changes are going to reduce the number of Northern Ireland constituencies from 18 to 16, which means a loss of two MPs, 12 MLAs and numerous councillors. We have to make sure that those losses don't hit unionism harder.

Given that background and those facts, it surely makes sense that pro-Union parties and groups talk to each other. Through all of the argy-bargy of this past week, I haven't heard anyone put up an argument for not having the dialogue I have been involved in.

My offence? I responded to some questions from Liam Clarke, the Belfast Telegraph's political editor, who was clearly aware that talks had been taking place. Should I have lied, or denied, or misled him? Maybe. But that risked the story breaking anyway and me looking like a liar.

I feel that I have been punished to appease the anger of some of my UUP colleagues, who are angry that they weren't informed about the talks. But that was not my call.

The party leader chose not to inform the Assembly group, party officers or UUP executive. That was his choice.

That's why I feel a sense of betrayal. I was acting on instructions from my leader. I informed him of the interview in advance. None of this was a solo run.

Yet I am being punished. My position within the Assembly group was made untenable and to accept the punishment would have been tantamount to an admission of supposed guilt.

I will continue to speak out and act in the interests of a collective unionism. I have not resigned from the party. If others now try and force me out, I will defend my corner and my actions.

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