Elliott defends McNarry punishment
Ulster Unionist leader Tom Elliott said he has no regrets in disciplining senior colleague David McNarry, claiming the MLA's decision to resign from the Assembly group in protest was an over-reaction.
Mr McNarry dramatically quit on Friday night after Mr Elliott demoted him from a Stormont committee position for remarks he made in a media interview about UUP talks with the DUP.
The Strangford MLA took his seat alongside independent members in the Stormont chamber on Monday, claiming he had been overwhelmed with messages of support following his decision to walk away from the Assembly group.
As the fall-out from the affair continued, his party leader stood by his call to remove him as vice-chairman of the Education Committee.
Mr Elliott acknowledged that he was aware Mr McNarry was going to give the interview to the Belfast Telegraph about the discussions with the DUP, but claimed his colleague had not stuck to agreed party lines and had overstated the potential link-up with their unionist rivals.
He said Mr McNarry's claim during the interview, that in the future the DUP could hold Stormont's first minister position, with the UUP holding the office's junior minister post, had particularly angered him.
But he expressed sadness that Mr McNarry had remove himself from the Assembly group, adding: "I had hoped he wouldn't have done that, that certainly wasn't my intention. I have known David for a long, long time, so it disappoints me."
Mr McNarry contacted Speaker William Hay's office to resign officially from the UUP Assembly group.
An Assembly spokeswoman said: "The Speaker has received a letter from David McNarry, MLA, advising that with effect from 30 January 2012 he wishes to be regarded as an independent member of the Northern Ireland Assembly whilst retaining his designation as a 'unionist'."
But Mr McNarry has insisted he has no intention of quitting the wider Ulster Unionist party. Despite overtures from the DUP to join its ranks, Mr McNarry made clear he would not be voluntarily leaving the party he joined as a 15-year-old. "I have no intention of quitting the party," he vowed.