NI21 is here and here to stay, no matter what form it may take. Let no-one make any mistake about that.

Tommy Maguire who is a member of NI21 writes for Slugger about his belief that there is still a bright future for the party

What I am going to write is my opinion alone, not NI21’s, and I certainly do not speak on behalf of any individual member other than myself.

NI21 is not about the two leaders. Listen, does anyone join any political party because of who is leading them? Surely that in itself is a flawed logic, leadership will always change. And when it does, what then? Hope that someone you really like takes over? Or leave to go somewhere else?

No, NI21 is a movement of people. The sum of all its part’s. The sum of its entire membership and the values that each and every member brings to the political arena. The sum of individuals sick and tired of our politicians not delivering and making hollow promises. The sum of people not afraid to challenge the establishment of NI politics. The sum of people trying to deliver a bright and prosperous future through engagement and action, not prevent progress through disengagement and complacency.

People should always join and support a party because of policy and its ability to deliver, right? Not because of the profile of some of its members and leaders.

It has been a bit of an NI21 war cry since the council elections but the reality speaks for itself; almost 10,500 first preference votes and a councillor elected to office. This despite the collapse of the leadership and the apparent “dysfunction” brought to public attention spectacularly.

I think that fact in itself has proven that the ethos of NI21 has a place in NI politics. I don’t really do “what ifs” but I can’t help but wonder what we could have achieved with a relative utopia and harmony within the party going in to the elections …

Seeing some of the nasty, unthoughtful, and inconsiderate comments by some members and candidates from other parties, (and those “unaffiliated”),in the wake of this saga has given me, and many others, assurance that I want nothing to do with those same parties. I am not talking about constructive criticism and tongue in cheek jabs. I am talking about proper ridicule, even going as far to call people stupid for voting for NI21. Taking comments of individuals and twisting them to reflect them as a view of an entire party. Twisting the knife in to the back of NI21 members one day and then courting them the next to leave NI21. Gloating at an apparent capitulation of NI21, ignorant (or not), of the hurt those involved may have been feeling. And most of those comments are void of any fact or knowledge of the issues surrounding the party born of complete ignorance.

While people like those exist in any party they will continue to be part of the Northern Ireland problem, not the solution.

Politics shouldn’t be about out-shouting or out-abusing the opposition in to submission. It should be about making constructive opposition, about offering real solutions to real problems for all classes of people, and by embracing ideas that offer real value to NI, even if those ideas come from opposition.

Trying to endorse collaborative working relationships to others outside of NI21 just seemed to be a step too far for some to grasp, sadly. It is amazing how offensive people find a party like NI21, a party who is trying to force the establishment to work for the people instead of strategically working the people for votes, seats, and power. Or maybe not so hard to see where offense could be taken …

The Basil and John saga I have no doubt will roll on. But as a party we must let that be a side-line now. There has already been a lot of hard, positive work put in to keep things moving. The Interim Exec have had the thankless task of trying to move things forward. Nonetheless they have been tireless in their efforts and some of the initiatives emerging are exactly what the party needs to move on. I am delighted to fully support them as we move on.

I am not naïve though. Depending how this leadership debacle ends NI21 as a brand may not survive. But as a movement it most certainly will survive, with or without any of the two leaders at the helm.

Let what emerges from this be a shining example to all that no matter what adversity is thrown your way spirit, determination, and belief in what you fight for will overcome anything. Let those naysayers and detractors create effective opposition instead of cowardly, faceless, destabilisation if they want to challenge our validity as a voice for all in Northern Ireland.

NI21 is here and here to stay, no matter what form it may take. Let no-one make any mistake about that.

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  • I attended the launch of NI21.
    I wished NI21 well. Unionism needs a Party that gives the impression of living in a world that is post-Enlightenment.
    There is a dimension to our Troubles that is not Green and Orange but Reason and “Unreason”.
    NI21 was poised to at least offer Unionism an alternative which was firmly on the side of Reason.
    But it is I am afraid too late.
    The NI21 brand is toxic. The three leaders will never be taken seriously as politicians again.
    There was an activist core around the Party Executive and candidates but they are tainted by association with one faction or another.
    And difficult to see how they can resolve the divisions without rancour.
    Looking to a third level of rank and file, too many have had the heart ripped out of them and they just dont have the commitment or political gravitas to make a go of NI21.

    I do not share the triumphalism of two other parties at the demise of NI21. Nor will I make jokes at their expense. Its beyond that.
    But it would be equally unkind to look at NI21 and detect any signs of life.
    I hope the “bigger project” of a reasonable and secular unionist party is not dead. I dont think that it is.
    But having advanced in June 2013, it has been set back at least a decade in the last month or so.
    A Shame. But its how it is.

  • wasthatmee

    Like many I have followed the NI21 story and like some other people I saw something I could identify with. I actually pride myself on being a bit of a cynic and decided to take a closer look, meet some of the people involved and ask a few questions that I needed answered to satisfy myself as to what they were all about. There’s an old joke that goes “How can you tell if a Politician’s lying? His lips are moving!” So I didn’t approach either of the MLAs or the Party Chair of the time, I met with a few of the party members. A few went on to be some of the Local Election Candidates but I cornered those that didn’t. I spoke to the people who I could see had a belief in something. People who needed something that to date they hadn’t seen in local politics and I found I could identify with them.

    I don’t know how many were Protestants or Catholics, I don’t know what colour the kerb-stones outside their houses are painted, or who their parents or great grandparents fought with in 1690, 1916, 1922, 1939 or 1969. I didn’t care, their backgrounds didn’t matter. Each had a basic embryonic vision of an inclusive future for all the shades between luminous Orange and emerald Green. It got me interested.

    One thing stood as the Elephant in the room, the glaring, screaming and all pervasive question of Designation. No-one can be in any doubt of the problems that has caused them.

    Tommy has outlined his vision and hopes for the future and I am convinced that he and people like him will be the nucleus of a movement that will eventually bring some light to the darkness that is local politics. In this article he confirms the commitment I saw in those I met and have followed with interest.

    The first comment on Tommy’s piece is from John Mooney. I’ve never met John nor can I say I’ve talked with him. I can say that he has highlighted something that it seems Tommy has missed.

    John says that “Unionism needs a Party that gives the impression of living in a world that is post-Enlightenment.” He also says “NI21 was poised to at least offer Unionism an alternative.” He goes on “I hope the “bigger project” of a reasonable and secular unionist party is not dead.”

    There it is, there is the reason, in my opinion, why NI21 has faced so many problems and seemed doomed to failure. It is also the reason why NI21 will succeed and will go from strength to strength.

    The problems are simple, John and others like John, no disrespect intended, saw what Basil McCrea and John McCallister set up as an extension of Unionism. Some commentators coined the phrase “Soft Unionism.” Being classed as and shoehorned into the position of just another Unionist Party was the festering wound that denied NI21 the opportunity to thrive and move towards becoming a force for good in our country.

    Nowhere in Tommy’s article is Unionism mentioned. He does not even imply a unionist leaning. At no point in his article does Tommy try and designate the Party he belongs to or the one he foresees growing from the mess left at the end of May.

    The people of Northern Ireland need a voice that is prepared to take the risk of refusing to be pigeon-holed into the Unionist or Nationalist camps. They can be pro-union or pro-republic in their own ideology but they are more importantly Pro Northern Ireland. They are fighting to get people to see there is more to the future than being Unionist or Nationalist and that even the term Other is past it’s sell by date.

    There by the same token is the Solution. The answer is in Tommy and people like him. People prepared to take risks and step outside the strictures of sectarian politics that for years have repeatedly failed. People that care about people, about Education, Health Care, Welfare and the things that matter. Not afraid to face the issues but not prepared to be side-lined by them.

    When 10,000 plus people stuck with NI21 I believe they knew what the Jonny McCarthys, the Barbara Neesons, the Eileen Chan-Hus and the Jayne Olarundas of this World wanted for our small part of it. They voted for the ideal of something different, of something new and in aspiration of something better.

    NI21 is here to stay? In my opinion we need it to stay and good people like Tommy will make sure that stay it does.

  • Tommy Who?

    Tommy Maguire

    Never Heard of him.

    Gimmi a pinch of that salt !!

  • John Mooney,
    ” I attended the launch of NI21.
    I wished NI21 well. Unionism needs a Party that gives the impression of living in a world that is post-Enlightenment.”

    I was there too.

    The thing is irrespective of the needs of unionism, they aren’t, no more Unionist,

    didn’t you hear they are re-designating = ‘other’.

  • Well…to be honest, anything I have heard in the last six weeks about NI21 is totally irrelevant.
    They will never get out of a place…where they are ridiculed, pitied or ignored. Thats no place for a political party to be. They cant recover from that.
    A Double Tragedy …a tragedy for the foot soldiers who signed up. And not very edifying to see the unrestrained glee of political rivals and enemies in the “Middle Ground” who were wooing the same people and foot soldiers less than two years ago.
    There is nobody in Norn Iron politics quite as ruthless as the “Moderates” and the NI21 foot soldiers found this out the hard way.

    I dont think its relevant that I havent heard of “Tommy Maguire” .
    I wont ridicule NI21 or its foot soldiers.
    Nor will I pity the Leadership.
    Time is just right to ignore them. They mean nothiing.

  • DoppiaVu

    Tommy Maguire & Wasthatmee

    Well said both of you.

  • Scáth Shéamais

    Why shouldn’t people think of NI21 as unionist (or pro-union, whatever)? Basil and John came out of the UUP, Tina made a point of saying she was a catholic unionist, and that explicit pro-union position was how they distinguished themselves from Alliance at start.

    NI21 can be happy that they were able to put forward nearly 50 candidates for the locals, but probably not so happy that they could only average around 220 votes per person. That puts NI21 right up there with political powerhouses like the Workers’ Party and the NI Conservatives.

    And considering the trajectory of Jayne Olorunda, who knows how many others may follow?

  • Sorry, Tommy, but this comes across as very much a case of ‘everyone hates us because we’re so fresh and different and not like those horrible useless people in the other parties’.

    NI21 was ALL about it’s leaders. It’s members DID join because of it’s leaders and it shows a willful ignorance or terrifying irony to try and claim otherwise. The simple test for that is that NI21 didn’t, or couldn’t, articulate what it was offering that was different from what Alliance were already offering. Other than less resources, less experience and less competence. People joined NI21 because the Leadership was appealing to them.

  • DoppiaVu

    Well done Ed Simpson for telling those silly NI21 people what they were actually thinking.

    Whilst they might have thought that their motivation was to improve NI and it’s politics, you’ve now proven that actually they were a bunch of Hello-reading dupes, incapable of independent thought whilst blinded by the glamour of D-list celebs like John and Basil.

    You really are awfully clever.

  • tuatha

    “Everybody hates us, might as well go and eat worms”.

  • Comrade Stalin

    It’s hard work reading this article, as it’s rather incoherent and littered with grammatical errors as well as a bunch of completely unnecessary rhetorical flourishes. Half an hour in the hands of a proof reader or editor would probably help. There are also some pretty serious matters of fact. I’m fairly sure that NI21 did not win 10500 first preference votes, for example. It won ~10500 votes overall in an election where many of the DEAs had many counts. That underscores one of the party’s weaknesses in that it just doesn’t understand STV.

    Let’s go through a few of the points made. First, the profile of the party’s leaders and senior members are very important. The clue is in the word – “leader”. These are the people who speak for the party and who, to a significant extent, should personify the party’s values and message. That is why proper political parties, as opposed to vehicles such as NI21, have a formal constitution which provides mechanisms through which the leader is held to account. So trying to divorce NI21 members and supporters from their leadership isn’t going to wash. And, in fairness, this is a fact which is well understood, which is why so many people are resigning from the party. To remain in the party is to be aligned with the leader.

    The next paragraph is a long rant about how nasty people are so unkind about NI21. I am one of those accused of being nasty or unkind. I think this is some sort of code, as I’ve never been personal about anyone in NI21. I certainly have pointed out, forcefully, how stupid most of NI21’s public behaviour has been. If you guys think this is ad hominem you are simply not going to make it in politics. If you do stupid stuff in public people are going to point it out. And let’s face it, NI21 is a silly party. It has no policies and no substance. It is not at all clear how it is constituted, how it (officially) formulates policy, what it’s actual policies are, or how its leadership is held to account. That is because it is not really a political party; it is a vehicle for Basil McCrea who wants to do his own thing to get himself re-elected in Lagan Valley. The votes that it won cannot have been an endorsement of NI21 policies, since there are none. Rather it reflects hope among some voters that with support they could iron the kinks out.

    Next there is talk of how some people supposedly find NI21 “offensive” and some talk about how it is trying to work for the people, yadda yadda yadda. Speaking personally I don’t find NI21 offensive, just stupid. And I have no idea in what way NI21 want to work for the people, because they haven’t told me yet. Talking about collaborative working relationships makes no sense as NI21 are, basically, splitters in the non tribal vote. The Alliance Party have been trying to promote a better way of running NI for over four decades. If people want to collaborate to build non sectarian politics then they should join that party and help to make it better.

    NI21 supporters respond to these criticisms with what are basically conspiracy theories about other parties trying to undermine them. It would be hilarious if they were not so serious. These are people who cannot conceive that they may have got their message or strategy wrong, and who have been told that they represent an existential threat to the established order. The article above talks about NI21’s ethos, and I think this is it – unbridled arrogance and a complete inability to do real introspection, and that is the “ethos” of the party which flows directly from its leader.

    This arrogance comes particularly at the very end of the article, where the author lays claim on behalf of NI21 supporters and voters for the non sectarian middle ground. He’s right, that movement is not dead. It gained a coherent voice in 1970 when the Alliance Party was founded. And Alliance will be here long after NI21 or any break-off parties have been and gone.

  • mjh


    For the record NI21 got 11,494 first preference votes in the LG elections.

  • mjh

    “If people want to collaborate to build non sectarian politics then they should join that party (Alliance) and help to make it better.” – Comrade Stalin

    In which case it seems to me that Alliance need to ask themselves two important questions:
    1) Why didn’t those people join Alliance instead of NI21?
    2) Why, excluding non-transferable votes, did half of NI21’s voters transfer to parties other than Alliance?

  • Von Manstein

    I find this piece particularly amusing, as for me it sums up much of what I despise about these post-political politicians. In Northern Ireland, we have historical, tribal, ethnic, religious, national, and cultural divisions. In human affairs, this accords strongly with lived experience through the ages and to some extent is the ‘natural’ order of things. The claim NI21 lays to ‘freshness’, and ‘alternative’, a ‘movement’ of nice people, is almost a caricature of the liberal cosmopolitan nihilistic cultural relativist position; for dummies.

    Despite UUP/DUP internal and external disagreements, SDLP and SF internal disputes and fall outs over the past decades, the ability of these parties to act as broadly coherent units leading distinct communities and constituencies bears testament to their relevance to the political situation. It might not be ideal, but the tribal and divided nature of our situation cannot be wished away. Liberals, broadly speaking, love the notion of replacing these essential identities with new fashionable ones, whether on sexuality, gender, race etc. It all amounts to identity politics nonetheless but is allegedly more ‘progressive’. NI21 as an organisation, from what I can see, is a collection of post-national and rootless champions for new identities – whether ‘Northern Irish’, being right-on when it comes to sexuality, immigration, blood donations/adoptions/abortions etc etc etc. They all broadly believe largely in the same things. Yet, as a political body comprised by individuals all holding the ‘right’ opinions they cannot function as a democratic and law governed unit internally. If this is how they govern themselves, why ought the electorate relish NI21 gaining public power, and what does this say about their approach to decision making, accommodating minority opinions, and following procedure as a matter of course?

    I think Alliance supporters have a good case persuading these liberal types into the fold, and querying why they didn’t join in the first place. My only commentary would take into account the media spun confection of Basil McCrea’s ‘charisma’. He was useful at undermining the nationalist position of unionism and the morality of Christianity. Sadly, trying to create a new politics in this case has merely been achieved through ignoring the real politics of the jurisdiction. Basil was good at bashing his own tribe, but having abandoned the tribe, Alliance will spank him (ergo NI21) at doing liberalism; liberalism in a divided society.

  • Comrade Stalin


    Those are fair questions. NI21 reached some people that Alliance could not. To be honest I think it was as much about novelty as anything else; people voting for them because they were new and untainted by the messy compromise that are the reality in politics.