Council: NI21 wrong on name gaffe

A council whose chief executive is a deputy returning officer has dismissed several claims by NI21 leader Basil McCrea after he said that electoral staff were responsible for the party’s name not appearing on some ballot papers.

On Monday, Mr McCrea told the News Letter: “The two deputy returning officers [in Lisburn/Castlereagh and Mid and East Antrim] told us that we were not allowed to use NI21. They were wrong and they accept that they were wrong. We can’t change it in time ...we weren’t allowed to put our party name in.”

Instead of the party’s name, voters in the two council areas will have the phrase ‘Aspire to Better’ where other parties have their name.

Mr McCrea said that he had spoken to the Electoral Commission who said it was too late to be changed but other candidates had written NI21 on the form and, after his approval, it was accepted.

However, yesterday Lisburn City Council, whose chief executive, Adrian Donaldson, is the area’s deputy returning officer, released a statement which made clear that he had never admitted being in the wrong. The council said that it was NI21’s nominating officer, Mr McCrea, who wrote to him on April 16 “authorising the use of the description of ‘Aspire to Better’ on nomination papers for...those who wish to do so”.

The detailed statement went on: “As the nominating officer for NI21 had only authorised the use of ‘Aspire to Better’ during the nomination period the deputy returning officer had no discretion in accepting the description ‘NI21 – Aspire to Better’ which the candidates wished to use as this was a modification of what had been authorised.”

It said that candidates were “given the opportunity to discuss with their nominating officer and/or resubmit nomination forms before the closing date...this option was not taken up by any candidate, and all candidates used the description ‘Aspire to Better’ on their nomination papers”.

Last night Mr McCrea said that he had not intended to “cast aspersions on anybody” but that the new party had “ended up in a position of some difficulty”.

He said that the chief electoral officer had agreed, after a letter from him, that the party “could use either ‘Aspire to Better’ or NI21”. He added: “Had we been able to use NI21, we would have used it because that was the name of the party.”