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NI21 rocked by McCrea probe: Leader dismisses rumours he engaged in inappropriate behaviour

By Steven Alexander

NI21 was close to collapse last night after its deputy accused his leader Basil McCrea of trying to force him out of the party.

John McCallister claimed that the party had controversially dropped its unionist designation in a bid to make him quit after the South Down MLA ordered a report into rumours of inappropriate behaviour about Mr McCrea.

Last night, Mr McCrea said no allegations had been put to him, and denied all wrongdoing.

As the party’s two most senior members went to war, NI21’s European candidate Tina McKenzie angrily quit the party executive as soon as polling stations closed last night.

In a parting shot, Ms McKenzie told the two warring party leaders — it’s time to grow up.

“I feel terribly let down by them, the party is let down by both of them,” she told the Belfast Telegraph.

The party executive was rocked by a series of other resignations that left the two leaders at the centre of the feud as the only members left.

Mr McCallister said that it would now be “impossible” for him and Mr McCrea to remain together in the party.

The Belfast Telegraph yesterday revealed that Mr McCallister had called in an external body to assess rumours about Mr McCrea three weeks ago.

The human resources and wellbeing company — Carecall — is believed to be producing a report which could, potentially, lead to Mr McCrea's suspension under NI21’s constitution.

Mr McCallister had branded his own party crazy and dysfunctional after its executive decided on Tuesday to abandon its ‘unionist’ designation in the Assembly in favour of the more neutral ‘other’.

Last night, he publicly apologised to his party for his outspoken criticism of the move on the eve of the election. “I am truly sorry to voters, to people that feel we have completely let them down and missed an opportunity,” he said. But he added that the decision, taken just two days before yesterday’s poll, had been designed to force him out of NI21.

“By the time the decision was made, and the statement was all ready to go... all of this had been prepared and choreographed without my knowledge. By the time you get to that stage, we were something like 36 hours from the polls opening,” he said.

“I mean... absolutely bizarre, crazy timings. But this wasn’t and isn’t about redesignation — this was purely about the allegations against Basil McCrea.”

Mr McCallister said he believed that the redesignation move was an attempt to provoke him to quit, so he could not complete his over

sight of the investigation. “That was about muddying the waters,” he said. “If I had resigned from the party over that issue, the report from Carecall, when finished, comes back to me, and to another person that we have to finalise yet. But the report comes to me, so if I was not in position, the process could be easily stopped.”

Asked if he would quit, Mr McCallister said: “Not a chance.”

Mr McCallister said he had asked Mr McCrea about the rumours.

“Basil looked me in the eye and said, ‘I have done nothing wrong’. I said, ‘That’s fine Basil — but looking and judging by best practice, we should bring in outside professionals. Carecall are available: bring them in, investigate, speak to staff and if there are any issues there, or if anybody needs support, counselling, whatever, let’s do that.”

He said at that point, he had received no complaints about Mr McCrea.

Mr McCrea dismissed Mr McCallister’s claims and categorically denied any inappropriate behaviour. He said he had been approached by Mr McCallister after rumours circulated, but no allegations had been made. The Lagan Valley MLA said he would address any that came forward.

“I am quite confident that I have done nothing wrong. But obviously until I hear them, I can’t respond to them,” he said. “If there is any complaint, there are lots of procedures... and we can go through it. If someone brings something to me, I will respond to it.”

He said he has not been approached by Carecall, and had not attempted to stop others cooperating with their investigation, or stop it happening. He added: “John wanted to do it, and he’s absolutely entitled to do it.”

He denied trying to drive Mr McCallister out through the redesignation move because he called in an outside organisation.

“Well, how would that work? It just isn’t possible,” he said. “That would be so cack-handed. I don’t see how you can draw those conclusions.”

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