AN Ulster Unionist motion about the flags crisis which condemned violence and intimidation, reaffirmed support for democracy and called for peace was yesterday opposed at Stormont by the DUP and Jim Allister – because it mentioned the Belfast Agreement.
The motion, which was debated last Tuesday but for procedural reasons was only voted on yesterday, was the first time that the Assembly had properly debated the outcome of the Union Flag vote on Belfast City Council and the subsequent protests.
The DUP opposed the motion and instead tabled an amendment that removed the reference to the 1998 Agreement, something which led to angry exchanges with nationalists, who tabled a petition of concern against the amendment, which meant that it required cross-community support to be passed.
UUP leader Mike Nesbitt last week told the Assembly that his party “will not die in a ditch over that [removal of the Agreement reference]”, something which angered suspended UUP MLA Basil McCrea.
Mr Nesbitt and 12 other UUP MLAs voted in favour of the DUP amendment yesterday but Mr McCrea voted against his party colleagues, something which he said had never happened before on a matter of party policy. Former UUP MLA David McClarty was the only other unionist to vote against the DUP amendment.
Mr McCrea said that the Belfast Agreement “is the foundation for the future” and “it is what differentiates the UUP from the DUP”.
Former UUP deputy leader John McCallister was at a funeral and therefore absent for the vote.
The UUP motion, which was passed despite the DUP and TUV opposition, said: “That this Assembly reaffirms its commitment to the principles of inclusivity, mutual respect, peace and democracy; condemns all acts of violence and intimidation against police officers, elected representatives, other members of society, homes and property at all times; and calls on all political parties to support the spirit of the Belfast Agreement.”
The DUP amendment, which failed on a cross-community vote, left out the words after ‘times’ and replaced them with: “and calls on all political parties to give full effect to their commitment to the consent principle which recognises Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom”.
Meanwhile, Mr McCrea yesterday said that he will quit the UUP if the party agrees to a unionist unity candidate in the Mid-Ulster by-election.
When asked on BBC Radio Ulster’s Nolan Show if he would stay in the UUP if there are electoral pacts with the DUP, Mr McCrea said: “No. Let me make this absolutely clear – I’ve said it in public, I’ve said it in private – I believe that we need an independent party that is able to articulate the views of moderate, pluralist Ulster Unionism.
“Anything that leads us into having party unity in terms of a DUP-UUP deal is not a good thing for the people of Northern Ireland, it’s not a good thing for unionism and it’s certainly not a good thing for the Ulster Unionist Party.
“If there’s any suggestion of unionist unity or enhanced unionist cooperation that looks to all the world like it’s unionist unity, then I will not be in it.”
In response to the interview, former UUP councillor Stephen Nicholl, who does work for UUP chief whip Robin Swann, gave voice to the anger which some within the UUP feel towards Mr McCrea.
He said: “I am normally opposed to working closer with the DUP but having heard Basil say he will leave if there is a pact in Mid-Ulster I now demand a single unionist candidate in Mid-Ulster.”
Two weeks ago, Mr Nicholl wrote a blog post that savagely attacked his party colleague.
Mr Nicholl said that the Lagan Valley MLA had entered politics and joined the UUP in 2005 “not because of his unionism, but because of his opportunism”.