Tonight we see another casualty of the cut and thrust of political life, with the news that NI21 chair, Tina Mc Kenzie has resigned from the executive. I’m saddened by that. There was so much hope for NI21, and its hard to see how it can recover. I wish Tina all the best with whatever direction she takes in the future.
I came into politics late in life. I had watched from afar for many years but was put up off by the ‘them and us’ mentality and thought that most politicians had in their own way perpetuated the problems in Northern Ireland. I despaired when The DUP and Sinn Fein became the biggest parties further polarising us and, as a result, when I could be bothered to vote, I voted Alliance.
Thirty years down the line nothing much had changed. We were no better off and apart from Naomi Long, whom I admire very much, there was no one in the Alliance party that I could see who could change things. I was in favour of the union with Britain. I no longer considered myself as being part of any religious group but I wanted also to have the Irish element of my identity represented. In other words I saw myself as Northern Irish. Alliance didn’t tap in on that desire so when John Mc Allister and Basil McCrea jumped ship from the Unionist party and formed NI2I I thought, here is a party with whom I can identify.
I became a member, attended meetings and threw myself wholeheartedly behind them. I wasn’t completely happy. On many occasions through FB, Twitter and face to face, I criticised their administration. Ad hoc decisions were made. They seemed to drift from crisis to crisis. Things were not going well on the ground and the party seemed in some ways leaderless. One leader was running around like a blue-assed fly and the other not sure where he was. Most candidates will be unaware of what was going on. I canvassed for Jayne Olorunda, who started her campaign in a positive frame of mind. I watched as that changed to disillusionment.
What went wrong? For me a close observer and at times privy to discussions with some of the players I can give you my opinion.
The party launched too soon. The candidates and those trying their hands at administration were inexperienced and did not have a clue about running a campaign. Due to egos and internal disagreements some candidates were left to fend on their own, never having fought an election before. There was baggage that should have been dealt with so that there would be no skeletons in the cupboard when heading to elections. There appears not to have been much integrity about what was the right and what was the wrong way to act in certain circumstances. Although the decision to change designation was a positive step towards non – tribal politics, the timing and the fact that candidates were not informed or involved in the decision with only two days to go before the election was, I think, ill judged.
For two leaders to have such a public spat was embarrassing and unprofessional to say the least. Did they have no thought for the 47 young hopefuls who had thrown themselves behind the party with so much enthusiasm and gusto? They should both be ashamed of themselves. I very much doubt that either Basil or John now command the respect of those who gave up so much for them. I don’t know what the future is for NI 21. I for one will be very wary about ever again dipping my toes in already muddied waters. Two egotists not able to survive in the UUP and not able to survive together have trodden on the hopes of many potential NI 21 voters.