NI21 have been out of the headlines in the six months or so. But this afternoon’s meeting of members will be the first opportunity they’ve had to gather in the one place and talk as a party since the events of May 2014.
Why hold an AGM now?
With only 26 days to go before the beginning of 2015, NI21 had to hold an Annual Conference (or AGM) given the current constitution’s stipulation that “there shall be at least one Annual Conference in each calendar year”.
To avoid confusion, the current constitution doesn’t mention or define the concept of an Annual General Meeting (except in the context of a Constituency Association AGM, and today is the full party) so what the members have been invited to as an AGM must really be the “annual conference” if the party is planning to do any business.)
Will there be internal elections?
While the current NI21 constitution offered no method for replacing the party’s long-departed deputy leader mid-year, today’s annual conference does specify that a Leader and Deputy Leader must be elected. So later this afternoon, there will be a new Deputy Leader.
A leader should also be elected – or re-elected – at today’s meeting.
That’s not what Basil told the News Letter? [full article]
When asked if there would be a leadership election at today’s meeting, Mr McCrea said “No. It’s more a procedural thing. It’s just receiving reports and doing a few other bits and pieces that we just want to tidy up. It’s not the conference – that will be a bigger thing, which we will be having in the spring and that will be more of the policies and that sort of thing.” [emphasis added]
That’s not what the current constitution says. There must be at least one Annual Conference every year and it is the function of the conference to elect the leader and deputy leader.
The current constitution offers no way for the membership to vote to insist that their leader stand aside mid-year.
Now there is an opportunity, will anyone challenge Basil for the leadership? [Warning: Basil has experience of leadership elections … though like John he came out on the losing side in the UUP!] The current constitution doesn’t insist on nominations for leader having to be given in advance, so it looks like any member could conceivably put their hand up on the spur of the moment and seek support from the members present.
But the annual conference is also the opportunity for the membership to elect four members onto the Executive for the year. The current constitution allows the Executive to compensate for anyone leaving the Executive mid-year by appointing a replacement until the next annual conference.
Though members might want to consider whether bulk resignations off the Executive should trigger a “special meeting” (ie, an Extraordinary General Meeting) if that’s not already in the proposed constitutional amendments.
Can members raise motions on the day?
No. Though depending on the notice period, they may not have any opportunity to raise them in advance either.
Hopefully the calling notice for today’s NI21 conference contained details of all the business that the Executive (and party members) want to raise given that “no business can be taken unless it has been specified in the calling notice”.
Any member-raised motions needed to be “submitted to the Executive Committee at least one month in advance of the Annual Conference” and it seems unlikely that the notice given for the meeting (no minimum stipulated in the current constitution) would have allowed members the chance to submit any motions. (Though if someone was organised and thought ahead, they could have raised a motion in advance at any time over the last year.)
Members will want to make sure any new constitution has a better notice period to warn them of an upcoming annual conference to allow motions to be submitted in time for discussion.
After all, the current constitution says that all members of NI21 have the right to “submit policy motions to be debated and voted on at the Party Annual Conference” and it is questionable whether this right will be respected this year.
The party constitution is weak. Will it be updated today?
After the departure of many of the originally-elected Executive committee members, the new Executive spent a long time working on improvements to the original – and still current – constitution, along with generating many new internal policies that were missing in the embryonic party.
And as long as it’s specified in the calling notice, the Executive will be able to propose constitutional amendments that will definitely include a means to deal with both the resignation of and the ousting of the leader and/or deputy leader before the next annual conference.
“A two-thirds majority of members present and voting at an Annual Conference” are required to vote through “Constitutional Amendments […] proposed by the Executive Committee”. So if 30 people turn up today, 20 need to be in favour for any particular constitutional amendment to pass.
Can an Executive-proposed constitutional amendment be amended by the members present at the conference. Since there’s nothing in the current constitution to say that they can, or to say that they can’t, that would be a “silent matter” and the Chair could rule (subject to reversal by two-thirds majority of those present).
What else will happen at the
Annual Conference? AGM
Members should expect to receive the audited accounts, and vote on the membership subscriptions and constituency association affiliation fees proposed by the Executive. Members should not expect to see any loans or borrowed money given the current constitution’s stipulation that “specifically prohibits NI 21 from borrowing money, secured or unsecured, by way of overdraft or loan”.
And members should expect to hear a report from the Executive Committee on their considerable work throughout this year. That might include information about work to “initiate and progress campaigns and political action” and development of “political strategy” as well as evidence of liaison with Constituency Associations.
Finally with Westminster elections only round the corner, members should note that their current constitution places the selection of candidates into the hands of the Constituency Association (or the Executive Committee or other delegated body if there is no Constituency Association). However becoming an approved candidate for Westminster or the Assembly (ie, being able to contest for selection at a constituency level) requires following the approval rules set by the Executive Council (who will maintain a list of approved candidates).
Of course the larger questions facing NI21 are:
- Why has there been public radio silence for so long?
- Why did many members feel that there had been internal radio silence for so long following the spectacular events in and around the election and the subsequent processes?
- Are any of the constituency associations still viable? (They need five or more members, and to elect three officers – including a chair and a treasurer – and an annual AGM)
- Is the NI21 brand still positive?
- Will NI21 plan to fight the Westminster election?
- And who is the President of NI21 … because that person is constitutionally liable to make sure Constituency Associations comply with the constitution, and there’s no mention of how the President is elected or nominated!
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.