McCartney men form new party
The Ulster Unionist Party has welcomed the formation of a new party by former UK Unionists who have broken with their leader, Mr Robert McCartney.
The new grouping, called the Northern Ireland Unionist Party, was announced yesterday at Stormont by Mr Cedric Wilson, Mr Patrick Roche, Mr Norman Boyd and Mr Roger Hutchinson, all of whom were elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly on the UK Unionist ticket.
Mr McCartney, who is now the sole member of the UKUP in the Assembly, immediately challenged the four men to resign their seats and stand for election under the new party affiliation.
"This is a day of political infamy and fraud upon the UKUP electorate", Mr McCartney told Radio Ulster's Talkback programme. "All of these men stood and were elected on the principles and policies of the United Kingdom Unionist Party. If they had stood as individuals, I doubt if the four of them would have collected 1,500 votes between them in Northern Ireland.
"And, if they really had any political honesty or integrity, what they would do would be to say `The only mandate we have is from the UKUP electorate: if we now wish to form a new party, then we should resign not only from the UKUP, but from the Assembly, and stand as Northern Ireland Unionist Party members' and see what the electorate thought of their behaviour."
In their joint statement, Mr Wilson and his colleagues said that their decision to found a new party was "due to the failure of Mr McCartney to resolve fundamental differences relating to policy and decision-making with his Assembly colleagues".
For elected members to withdraw from the Assembly on the "personal whim" of a party leader would be "an act of gross political irresponsibility", giving the pro-Agreement unionists a "virtually unchallengeable ascendancy".
"For our part, we will continue to absolutely oppose the formation of an executive that would include Sinn Fein. We are prepared to hold the line on this issue even if that means bringing down the Assembly.
"However, in the event of the UUP capitulating on this issue, we are not prepared to effectively abandon the cause of the Union, which is precisely what Mr McCartney's exit strategy would entail", the NIUP statement added.
The Ulster Unionist Party said in a statement: "We welcome the fact that at last Cedric Wilson and his colleagues have realised that participation is the only way to protect the Union. Marginalisation does not help. Active engagement is the only way forward."
The UUP added: "We hope that this will signify the end of the trend of sniping from the sidelines. We have given, and continue to give, the lead which other unionist parties should follow. The constant fracturing of the unionist parties does nothing to strengthen the unionist position. We hope that the Northern Ireland Unionist Party can offer something tangible to unionism in the future."
The president of the Workers' Party, Mr Tom French, said that the formation of "another renegade unionist party" would do nothing for the unemployed and the underprivileged and had "more to do with egos than any real attempt to confront political realities".