Fresh turmoil for NI21 as executive member quits over Basil McCrea

Alistair Straney, who has quit NI21
Alistair Straney, who has quit NI21

Another disillusioned member of NI21’s executive has quit the party, accusing it of now simply working to save Basil McCrea as leader.

Alistair Straney has only been on the party’s new executive for a matter of weeks after the entirety of the first party executive quit before polls closed on election day in May.

But the south Down stonemason has tonight quit the party just hours after the resignation of deputy leader John McCallister.

In a resignation letter to party chair Jayne Howson, Mr Straney — who was one of four people invited onto the executive by those members appointed to the body by Mr McCrea — said that it “became quickly apparent that there was fabrication and distortion of the truth and that you and the rest of the executive were not dealing with the real issues which needed to be addressed at that time”.

Referring to the allegations of sexual misconduct by Mr McCrea — allegations which the leader strenuously denies — Mr Straney said that the executive’s response to those claims caused him particular concern. He said that he had been troubled by the executive’s decision to halt an investigation by the company Carecall into the allegations.

He said: “I found myself disapproving and disagreeing with any of the actions being taken by the executive and most critically, I disapproved of your stance in relation to the Carecall report.”

Mr Straney claimed that Ms Howson had “categorically stated” to him that the investigation was being stopped because “it would cost the party £7,500”. He said that Ms Howson had later denied saying that but he claimed that he had spoken to others who also alleged that Ms Howson had said the investigation was being stopped for financial reasons.

Mr Straney said that he had felt “intimidated” during his time on the executive, something he said he raised with party secretary Adam Murray and Ms Howson.

He added: “It was obvious that I was not being included in every executive discussion and I can only assume that this was because I represented South Down and you saw me as not being fully committed to protecting the leader.

“Let me be clear, I did not see my role as protecting Basil McCrea. Rather, I joined the executive in the hope that I could help address the failings of the previous executive and help rebuild the party after the disastrous election.

“Unfortunately it was obvious to me that the interim executive is continuing to operate in the same vacuum as the last and is incapable, through naivety, of seeing what is really happening in front of its eyes.”

Mr Straney stood as a council candidate in Rowallane, polling 267 votes — more than the then party chair, Tina McKenzie in Belfast — but said that he believed the “incredibly difficult decision to comprehend” to redesignate from “unionist” to “other” on the eve of the election had cost him votes.

Mr Straney said that he was making his resignation letter public “as I feel I owe it to the people who came out and voted for me”.

He added: “I gave them assurances that the Party would sort itself out and that NI21 was something to still believe in. Unfortunately I cannot now give them that assurance as I have no confidence in the party leadership and the direction in which it is being taken.”