New pro-union party launched in Belfast will be modern and inclusive, its leaders pledge
‘NI21’ party formed by ex-Ulster Unionists Basil McCrea and John McCallister
Party leader Basil McCrea MLA and deputy leader John McCallister MLA at the launch of a new political party for Northern Ireland, NI21, in Belfast yesterday. Photograph: Press Eye.
The new political party established by former Ulster Unionist Party Assembly members Basil McCrea and John McCallister, which was officially launched in Belfast last night, aims to be a “political movement and not just another party”.
The two politicians have kept their pledge not to have the word unionist in the title of the party, calling it NI21, even though it is a pro-union party.
The NI21 name is being viewed as an attempt to place the new grouping as a modern party and also as a reference to the formation of the state of Northern Ireland in 1921.
The party leader, Lagan Valley MLA Mr McCrea, joined his South Down colleague Mr McCallister for the launch in the new Metropolitan Arts Centre centre in central Belfast. Both politicians resigned from the UUP in February when they announced their intention to establish the new party.
They said at the time that their move was prompted by a decision by UUP leader Mike Nesbitt to support the running of a unity unionist in the Mid-Ulster byelection caused by the resignation as MP of Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness. Mr McCallister said then that “pro-union parties should not be leading a retreat into sectarian trenches”.
At the launch Mr McCrea said he didn’t need to wrap himself in a flag to tell him who he was. “I am confident in my identity,” he added. “I am Northern Irish, an Ulsterman, British and Irish but I am more than that, I am an individual, a person, a human being and I reject the labels that others try to put on me.”
“We believe it is time for a confident, generous and progressive pro-UK party to step forward and build support for a modern Northern Ireland in the 21st century,” Mr McCrea and Mr McCallister added when explaining the NI21 name. “In choosing our name, we aim to build on the Northern Ireland identity and offer voters, as well as those disengaged from the political process, an opportunity to support a new party – a party not tied to the baggage of the 20th century, legacy and conflict.
“In the post Good Friday Agreement Northern Ireland we believe every citizen has a valuable role to play in our society regardless of their religion, age, gender, sexuality or ability,” they said.
“We are a political movement not just another party,” added Mr McCrea. Mr McCallister said that one of the new party’s first acts would be to introduce a private members’ Bill in the Northern Assembly to establish an official Opposition to the current five-party Northern Executive comprised of the DUP, Sinn Féin, the SDLP, the UUP and Alliance.
The party founders sought to distinguish themselves from Alliance, which also places itself centre ground, accusing it of seeking “to hitch a ride on the Sinn Féin/DUP juggernaut”.