Issue was discipline, not gay marriage stance which saw Lord Maginnis leave the UUP, says Mid Ulster MLA Sandra Overend.
I WISH to challenge the confusion as to why Lord Maginnis has chosen to leave the Ulster Unionist Party. Some commentators are under the impression that he came into conflict with the party leadership on the issue of his opposition to same-sex marriage, but this is most certainly not the case. The issue was discipline.
In June, Lord Maginnis gave an interview on BBC radio, in which he used some language which caused offence and created a media storm – as a result of which, the party leader asked that members apply the rule that media contact be cleared in advance with the party press office. This is commonplace in other political parties, including those that enjoy the most electoral support.
It is basic common sense that representatives speaking to the media should be briefed on the latest developments and especially whether or not other party colleagues have been lined up for interview on a particular issue.
It was Lord Maginnis’s insistence on going back to the media the next day and effectively defying the leadership that was the cause of the difficulties which emerged, not his opposition to same-sex marriage.
Let me place on record my own position regarding same-sex marriage lest there be any doubt or confusion. I am opposed to same-sex marriage; so is my party leader, Mike Nesbitt; so is the Assembly group’s deputy leader, John McCallister. Others may be in favour, and they are entitled to hold that view.
It is equally important that any political party engages in public political debate in a responsible manner and in language which is not deemed to be unnecessarily offensive.
Less than two weeks ago the party stated that Ulster Unionists should “demonstrate compassion, be mindful of the sensitivities surrounding the issue and to be careful not to use language which might offend”.
As a west of the Bann unionist, I know only too well the debt which the community owes Lord Maginnis for his service over many decades.
As a school teacher, Ulster Defence Regiment officer, Member of Parliament and peer he has served not just Fermanagh and South Tyrone but the whole of Northern Ireland and rather than recent events, it is this lifetime of service which I think of when I think of Lord Maginnis.
It saddens me that a man who promoted the need for discipline should fall for the lack of it.