Disciplinary meeting to highlight tensions within UUP over flags issue
An Ulster Unionist Party hearing over whether to discipline Lagan Valley Assembly member Basil McCrea on his stance on flags has exposed more divisions in the UUP and put further pressure on its new leader Mike Nesbitt. For some time Mr McCrea has been on a collision course with Mr Nesbitt and the party hierarchy, and the disciplinary hearing at party HQ could be decisive in whether he and another “liberal” member, South Down MLA John McCallister, will or can remain Ulster Unionists.
That hearing was to take place today but for procedural reasons has now been postponed, most likely until next Friday.
In recent years party squabbling has led to a number of relatively high-profile members quitting or being expelled from the UUP, including Assembly members David McClarty, now an Independent Unionist for East Derry, and Strangford MLA David McNarry, now a member of the UK Independence Party.
Others to leave include former Irish rugby international Trevor Ringland, who joined the British Conservative Party, and former fellow general election candidates Harry Hamilton and Paula Bradshaw, who went to Alliance.
Mr McCrea lost the party whip in December when he opposed his party’s stance on the union flag – he contended that it was party policy that the flag just fly on designated days.
This infuriated UUP members on City Hall, which led to the calling of the disciplinary case. That anger was stoked by Mr McCrea’s decision on Monday to vote against an Assembly motion on the flag that was supported by the UUP.
Last Tuesday week, a motion tabled by Mr Nesbitt in relation to the flags street disorder reaffirmed the Assembly’s “commitment to the principles of inclusivity, mutual respect, peace and democracy”.
It is known that Mr McCrea has not changed his opposition to any further cosying up between the UUP and DUP. Were he to exit the UUP, he could be joined by Mr McCallister, who has not hid his unhappiness with the current direction of the party under new leader Nesbitt. Were this to happen, it would leave the UUP with just 13 seats, when less than 10 years ago it had 27.