Belfast Telegraph

NI21 party is dead and Basil McCrea is to blame, says MLA John McCallister

By Deborah McAleese

The founder of NI21 has declared that the party is dead and blamed his former friend Basil McCrea for its collapse.

In a frank interview with the Belfast Telegraph one year on from the party's implosion, South Down MLA John McCallister talks about how Mr McCrea's "ego" caused him to lose grip and how NI21 failed to deal with allegations of sexually inappropriate behaviour against its leader.

McCallister, who hopes to continue his career as an independent unionist, also reveals how he now has no relationship at all with his former colleague.

"NI21 is dead. It hasn't said anything for a year. It has shifted into I don't know what," Mr McCallister said.

He added: "That's the tragedy of the NI21 story, the voters that were let down. Only last week a woman stopped me and said: 'I think you were really on to something, but hopefully you can continue that as an independent'. That is what I am hoping to do."

Mr McCallister left the Ulster Unionists along with Mr McCrea to set up NI21 in June 2013. They billed themselves as a progressive pro-Union party that would sit in opposition at Stormont. Mr McCrea appointed himself leader, and McCallister was deputy.

"Basil's ego was never going to allow me to be leader. But that sort of schoolboy-type politics didn't interest me.

"I could have happily lived with no title in the project," Mr McCallister said.

Less than a year later the party imploded amidst allegations against McCrea of inappropriate sexual activity. Mr McCallister walked away from the party after an investigation by mediation firm Care Call was halted by NI21.

The allegations, which Mr McCrea strongly denies, are currently being considered by the Assembly's Commissioner for Standards. Mr McCrea said he had no comment to make.

The Big Interview, Pages 20&21

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