NI21 in turmoil as European candidate McKenzie quits party

John McCallister says it was “impossible” to continue working with party leader Basil McCrea

Basil McCrea and John McAllister of the NI21 party, pictured with Tina McKenzie, who resigned from the party executive on Thursday night

Basil McCrea and John McAllister of the NI21 party, pictured with Tina McKenzie, who resigned from the party executive on Thursday night

 

The new NI21 party was in turmoil last night with its European candidate Tina McKenzie resigning from the party executive as polling in the local and European elections was coming to a close at 10 pm.

NI21’s deputy leader John McCallister said late last night that it was “impossible” that he could continue working with the party’s leader Basil McCrea. Both Mr McCallister, an Assembly member in South Down and Mr McCrea, MLA for Lagan Valley, were founder members of the party which was formed in June last year.

Mr McCallister accused Mr McCrea of “inappropriate behaviour” within the party which Mr McCrea has denied. The two MLAs resigned from the Ulster Unionist Party to form NI21, a pro-union moderate party which attracted a broad range of support including from Catholics.

Its standard bearer in the European elections was McKenzie, a businesswoman of Catholic background originally from west Belfast who also ran for Belfast City Council. Last night in the chaos of the current controversy she said she was standing down “with immediate effect” from the party executive to spend more time with her family.

Ms McKenzie said she would continue to support NI21 while adding, “I wish John and Basil sincere goodwill and hope they can work out their differences for the sake of the party.”

The crisis within the party came to public knowledge on Tuesday night when to great surprise NI21 said that it was changing its designation as a unionist party to the more neutral official Stormont label of “other” – a change of description that Mr McCallister rejected.

Results in Northern Ireland’s local elections will begin coming in this afternoon or evening.

Just over 900 candidates are competing for 462 seats on the North’s 11 new “super councils”, while 10 candidates are contesting three seats in the Northern Ireland European constituency.

Polling stations opened at 7am yesterday, with voting continuing until 10pm.

Indications were that turnout would be relatively low, possibly under 60 per cent.

A total of 1,243,649 people were entitled to vote in the local elections and 1,226,771 in the European poll – this latter number smaller because thousands of foreign nationals living in the North opted to place their votes in their own countries.

Counting in the local elections takes place today and tomorrow, while the European count will not happen until Monday at the King’s Hall count centre in south Belfast.

The three outgoing MEPs, Martina Anderson of Sinn Féin, Diane Dodds of the DUP and Jim Nicholson of the Ulster Unionist Party, are favourites to retain their seats.