When I attended the NI21 launch on that hot night in June 2013, I was impressed with the calibre of the people in the room and the buzz of the MAC. For a moment I thought, jeepers I could be witnessing the birth of a new political force here. The only thing I thought that could possibly go wrong for the party would be is if it became the Basil McCrea show and he dominated every aspect of the party’s actions. Now, in an explosive way we have actually gained some insight into the party’s internal operations due to NI21 member, Shane O’Hanlons departure from the party.
In his blog he speaks about his time on the executive of the South Belfast NI21 branch(a constituency where you would think they had a good chance in) saying
A month or so back the South Belfast chair reached out to me and asked if I could attend a meeting which I did. There were few attendees and he asked was I interested in helping on the South Belfast executive, be that helping with canvassing or maybe a little input into strategy, who knows but I was very willing to get involved and wanted to assist them where I could. I attended two meetings as part of this before the meeting with the Chairperson on the 6th of March 2014. The meetings were in disarray and I had concerns that we had no candidates and no real strategy from the leadership. This was to be answered at the meeting with the Chairperson.
But, for O’Hanlon the straw that broke the camels back came at a meeting with NI21 Chair, Tina McKenzie
I am not someone who will just run with the “party line” when instructed to do so if it goes against my conscience. The meeting opened with introductions; a set of people passionate about the party, perhaps more so than me and a Chairperson who seemed professional and very competent. We addressed a few concerns and being the new person there I was invited to speak on one or two issues. I described my issues with confidence in the party firstly around their stance on social media; it seems to be their main political platform and was invited to present how I would do it up in Stormont. I was very happy to do so and appreciated my opinion would be valued. However she did follow up by stating that they had a team paid to do this and they may not accept my position. Just a note on that, I have been using social media since its onset. I keep up to speed on it, use a number of platforms and technologies and am always trying to keep on top of its best usage and its trends. Perhaps arrogantly, I consider myself to have quite a lot of expertise, perhaps wrongly.
As the meeting progressed there was a sense according to O’Hanlon that Basil was the main driver of policy saying;
The final nail in my “political coffin” were the last few statements that were made. I have tweeted about these today but I will restate them here. Basil makes the policy and we should not disagree with it. I personally don’t want to be part of a body were I have no say in policy, especially when they have already release a stance I wholeheartedly disagree with. Secondly the chair stated that this is Basil’s career. Reaffirming my thought that Basil probably comes first and the membership second. A damning statement in my opinion if any for a political party to make. Perhaps I misinterpreted these statements but I can only give opinion on what I saw and heard. Its up to the voters to make their own decision on all of this. At the end of the meeting I spoke to the chair that I was done.
Speaking to me earlier, O’Hanlon told me that his experience with NI21 has hurt his view of politics/political parties generally and that he feels that under Basil’s leadership the slowness in annoucing candidates making the party’s prospects of electoral success ‘slim’ in the upcoming electons.
There you have it, none of this is really surprising but we know relatively little about the party’s internal workings. But, it does appear from O’Hanlon that Basil is really following the ‘Uno Duce, Una Voce (One leader, one voice) style in his running of the party.
I have approached NI21 for a comment on this and they are still yet to get back to me.
David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs