Shortly after this afternoon’s special meeting – or AGM – of NI21 finished, the party’s leader Basil McCrea MLA, chair Olive Buckley and newly-elected deputy leader shadow Councillor Johnny McCarthy agreed to a short interview. It was a joint interview with Adam Kula from the News Letter, so you’ll hear his voice at times. [audio|video]
This afternoon’s meeting of NI21 members was characterised as an AGM, or a “special meeting” called by the party Executive under the terms of its current constitution. It stopped short of being the annual meeting the party requires itself to have. No one in the party would give exact figures, but it’s estimated that 40-45 people were present in the upstairs room in The MAC. A handful of council candidates could be recognised heading into the meeting.
Basil McCrea explained afterwards that today was an opportunity to talk directly to the party membership. The party had filled the vacancy of deputy leader. Lisburn & Castlereagh shadow Councillor Johnny McCarthy – the only person successfully elected to the party – was nominated and endorsed.
However, there was neither any challenge to Basil’s leadership, nor any attempt to re-elect him as the leader nor to formally elect the Executive, many of whom are temporary appointments made by the leader awaiting the next “annual conference”.
Olive Buckley said that the party “recognised there were inconsistencies in the current constitution” and as chairperson she “wanted to address those”. (As chair she has the ability to address matters that the constitution is silent on – subject to challenge by two-thirds of members present). Some proposals for constitutional change were put to the membership today and accepted, and will be ratified at the next annual conference.
Asked whether the party was going to continue being very low profile, Basil McCrea explained that the members present wanted time to engage and talk through policy issues and priorities.
[Staying under the radar is counter-productive for the party given the ongoing political talks and the perfect opportunity for a better-functioning NI21 to be engaging from the sidelines with fresh ideas and measured suggestions. If NI21 does revitalise itself, it will be criticised by the larger parties for its silence.]
Johnny McCarthy said that the message of NI21 was unchanged.
The “annual conference” that the NI21 constitution mandates is held at least once every calendar year does not seem to be going ahead in 2014 … though unless the party members protest, there’s no sanction for being unconstitutional!
A decision – or at least an announcement – on whether NI21 will run any candidates for Westminster in May 2015 seems likely to be made at the “spring” annual conference.
Party members attending the AGM were mostly reluctant to speak to the media. But from the cursory conversations that were possible, it felt like members’ loyalty was more often to the ideals of NI21 – the fresh middle-ground politics that it promised at launch – rather than a strict loyalty to the party’s leader. Recovery of the party will be slow … if it’s even possible.
Alan Meban. Tweets as @alaninbelfast. Blogs about cinema and theatre over at Alan in Belfast. A freelancer who writes about and reports from civic, academic and political events, reviews cultural performances, chairs discussions, and live-tweets, streams and records lectures and conferences. He delivers social media training, coaching and consultancy, produces podcasts, is a member of Ofcom’s Advisory Committee for Northern Ireland, FactCheckNI board member, and is a member of the Corrymeela Community.