NI21 unveils council candidates

Basil McCrea, Tina McKenzie and John McCallister of NI21
Basil McCrea, Tina McKenzie and John McCallister of NI21

NI21 has finally announced its council candidates, though its party leader refused to put a target on the minimum number of seats he wants.

Among the 47 candidates the pro-union party unveiled yesterday were the chief executive of the Chinese Welfare Association and the nephew of a Catholic archbishop.

The would-be councillors – who appeared to be a very youthful bunch, with the youngest of them aged just 19 – now have just weeks to introduce themselves to the electorate before the May 22 polls.

Asked how few wins it would take for him to consider the election a failure, party leader Basil McCrea said: “We’re not even looking at it in those terms. We’re extremely pleased we have such a good quality field to put out to put out to people... We’ll be pleased with whatever it is the electorate give us, and after that we’ll build on that for the future.”

Asked if there was no minimum target, he said: “There’s no minimum. They’re all new candidates – that’s the beauty of it, actually. We’re realistic about what can be achieved.”

Speaking to a swelteringly-hot room packed with party faithful in Belfast’s MAC theatre yesterday, the party’s chairwoman and Euro candidate Tina McKenzie – daughter of ex-IRA man Harry Fitzsimons – said candidates had made a difficult decision to put themselves in the public eye.

She said: “Who would have known that to be in public life requires so much of your life to be thrown across the newspapers? Sometimes in such inaccurate ways, sometimes in ways that make you want to lock yourself in the cupboard, close the door and never come out again.”

She drew laughter when she said: “Basil said the Assembly are useless. Basil was wrong. They’re worse than useless,” adding that she was proud such a crop of candidates were opting to step up and say: “No more, no longer.”

Among them is Jonathan McCarthy, a 24-year-old political writer, and nephew of Archbishop Eamon Martin.

The wheelchair-bound spina bifida sufferer, vying for Lisburn North, said: “My family has a very, very Catholic background – my uncle is in line to be Primate of All Ireland,” but he added he was raised without any of the “tribalism” of old and had thought of running as an independent before NI21 came along.

Meanwhile, 43-year-old Belfast-born Eileen Chan-Hu, chief executive of the Chinese Welfare Association, will stand in Botanic in a bid to become the first elected ethnic-Chinese politician to have been born in the Province (with the Alliance’s Anna Lo originally from Hong Kong).