NI21 is to lose half of its public funding after deputy leader John McCallister yesterday resigned his membership following weeks of bitter turmoil played out in public.
The South Down MLA, jointly with fellow MLA Basil McCrea, set up NI21 after leaving the UUP in February last year in protest at the party’s support for a unionist unity candidate in the Mid Ulster Westminster by-election.
It is understood that Mr McCallister will now sit as an independent MLA at Stormont, with neither he nor the Ulster Unionists keen for him to return to the UUP fold.
Last night Mr McCallister said that he no longer wanted to be a part of what was going on at the party.
Although Mr McCallister’s departure was widely seen as inevitable, the move has significant financial implications for the fledgling party and its staff.
Under Assembly rules, NI21 was paid just under £60,000 per year because it had two MLAs. That will roughly halve now that the party only has one MLA.
But as an independent Mr McCallister will no longer receive any money under The Financial Assistance for Political Parties Scheme.
Mr McCallister told the News Letter that he “could have gone at any point” but had wanted to see the completion of the Carecall investigation into allegations against Mr McCrea and also “some sort of resolution around staffing issues”.
The Carecall probe was stopped after the new NI21 executive appointed by Mr McCrea refused to give permission for the investigation to continue. But Mr McCallister said that by the end of this week all of that material should be with the Assembly’s commissioner for standards, Douglas Bain, who has been asked to do his own investigation.
Mr McCallister said that the staffing problems would now be addressed by the Labour Relations Agency (LRA), in conjunction with the party executive. Last night the LRA declined to comment on any involvement with the party due to the confidential nature of its work.
Mr McCallister added: “I’ve taken it as far as I can take it.”
Six weeks of internal turmoil
John McCallister has become increasingly marginalised within NI21 over recent months as a rift developed with his former personal friend, Mr McCrea.
That dispute emerged publicly when he spoke out to the News Letter on the eve of May’s elections to brand the party “dysfunctional” after it suddenly decided to change its Stormont designation from “unionist” to “other” less than 48 hours before polling stations opened for the party’s first electoral test.
In that election the party performed poorly, seeing just one councillor elected.
Since then, it has emerged that allegations of sexual misconduct against Mr McCrea, pictured, had been made. The NI21 leader has strenuously denied any wrongdoing and threatened to sue for libel if the allegations are made public. Over recent weeks many of the party’s 47 candidates have quit.