NI21’s chair Tina McKenzie on why she got involved, party labels and Alliance

Tina McKenzie NI21 croppedNew to politics but not a newcomer to recruitment or change management, Tina McKenzie chairs the newly launched NI21.

She was interviewed by Kerri Dunn for yesterday’s On the Record politics show on Lisburn’s 98FM.

Over the twenty minute interview she answered questions about why she joined the party, her thoughts about standing as a candidate, perceptions of the party, and her attitude towards Alliance.

On party supporters and the female-heavy launch:

There were a lot of women (at the launch) but probably in terms of population it was probably 50/50 and what’s interesting is most people think they come into a room like that they expect to see a lot of men so in terms of the absolute demographics of Northern Ireland it was probably representative.

Asked whether the party was trying to get women involved in politics:

That is not a specific goal. I think the party itself in terms of what we are aiming for will naturally appeal to women because we are an inclusive party, we are not a party about the past, we are a party looking towards the future … we have a lot of modern views in there and because we are so inclusive it will appeal to a lot of women.

On Basil and John, and people’s passion for politics:

The two guys have been very brave, they have broken away from the Ulster Unionist Party because they don’t believe in segregated politics, they have stood up for what they believe in, and I thought with their view on Northern Ireland, it was amazing that they were similar views I have of Northern Ireland and how we should take the country forward and how we should build a future that isn’t looking to the past and no other politician that I’ve heard speaking, from any party, has spoken that way before.

The first day I went to meet Basil properly, I went up to Stormont, and here I am a 40 year old in Northern Ireland and I’ve never driven up the drive of Stormont before. I’m hugely passionate about Northern Ireland, hugely passionate about politics, but there wasn’t one party or one party leader that inspired me enough to get involved.

I think in Northern Ireland generally there are a lot of people who are absolutely passionate about politics not our politicians

Talking about the fact she hasn’t voted since the Belfast Agreement:

I think if you look at the voting statistics, I think something like over 75% of people in Northern Ireland voted for the Belfast Agreement and since then I think we are down to averages of 52% of people coming out to vote, because people are just disengaged with our politicians and disengaged with that whole argument of just all about green and orange and identity politics all the time

I think a lot of people don’t realise yet, that these guys (Basil and John) are about way more – in terms of NI21 – it’s way more than what the old Ulster Unionist Party were about. This is about building a brand new future for Northern Ireland and I think anyone that knows me will have the opportunity to understand what the party is about, would be in favour of it.

On the need for the media to neatly label the new party:

After the launch, there was great excitement, there was great applause, people are excited about it, people want to join, but already we see that some of the media are trying to squeeze us into that box, because this is new … I think, right now, they (the media) are trying to squeeze us into that, this is what you are in terms of identity, you are a unionist party, first and foremost, and then you are these things. They cant understand that you can have a party that actually is pro being part of the United Kingdom but we don’t need to be labelled in terms of unionist/nationalist whatever, because that is unhealthy.

When asked if she describes herself as pro-Union:

I’m pro for staying part of the United Kingdom, absolutely. Now my reasons for doing that are mostly economical. I don’t think that in saying that you are happy to stay within a United Kingdom that that makes you less Irish by the way, or less Northern Irish, depending on how you describe yourself.

I think economically, if we look at the things we take for granted, for example the block grant, if we look at the sterling, from a business perspective we are much better off right now within the United Kingdom.

When asked why she didn’t feel comfortable joining or voting Alliance:

I’m really disappointed in Alliance, if I’m honest. They came out in 1973, the year I was born was when I think Alliance was born and in 40 years I think I have done more than they have. I would have initially thought Alliance was going to do a lot more, but unfortunately, they are in a situation they are between the DUP and Sinn Fein, a bit like the SDLP and UUP, I believe anyway, they are stuck in the middle there between a game of ping-pong and they don’t seem to be having the impact that one might assume they would’ve had.

Sure-footed right up to the point Tina suggested that in 40 years she had done more than Alliance – which will wind up the party that NI21 needs to work closely with while maintaining a healthy public distance.

Alan Meban. Normally to be found blogging over at Alan in Belfast where you’ll find an irregular set of postings, weaving an intricate pattern around a diverse set of subjects. Comment on cinema, books, technology and the occasional rant about life. On Slugger, the posts will mainly be about political events and processes. Tweets as @alaninbelfast.