The way Ken Maginnis was treated by UUP leader Mike Nesbitt and his party reveals the UUP’s vacuous state, says former police detective Norman Baxter.
THE departure of Ken Maginnis from the Ulster Unionist Party in such acrimonious circumstances will undoubtedly bring about significant soul searching within the grassroots party membership, particularly within the Fermanagh/South Tyrone constituency.
Whether you like Ken Maginnis or you loathe him as a politician; or whether you agree with his political views or not, he is a man who deserves respect for his public service. Mike Nesbitt and the current Ulster Unionist leadership have failed to show him that respect.
I have known Ken Maginnis since 1980 when I was serving in Pomeroy and he was the principal of the local primary school and an officer in the Ulster Defence Regiment.
Unlike many of the current Ulster Unionist leadership who inhabited the benign leafy suburbs of East Belfast and North Down, Ken Maginnis did not need to spend 24 hours with a working class family to understand the needs of the socially deprived – he worked and lived among the people he served.
Ken Maginnis combined a professional teaching career with long hours with his UDR battalion combatting the sectarian campaign being waged by the IRA in East Tyrone.
I have no doubt that his politics and interest in security issues during the 1980s and 1990s was forged in the bitter experience of witnessing his colleagues, police officers and members of his community being murdered.
Despite multiple attempts by the IRA to assassinate him, Ken Maginnis continued to represent his constituency and defend unionism.
From my professional experience he represented his constituents irrespective of religious or political background.
Indeed, his constituency work resulted in many traditional nationalist voters joining with unionists to give him an overall majority in a constituency with an inbuilt nationalist majority.
However, with a proactive and experienced politician comes independence of thought. It seems that this independent thinking is the rock upon which the current leadership wished to shatter his public profile. I have not agreed with all of Ken Maginnis’s political views nor all the political initiatives he has been involved in; but I recognise him as a man of conviction and a man who had a sense of purpose working for the good of the people of Northern Ireland.
At the root of the dispute with Mike Nesbitt are the views he expressed on the proposals for homosexual marriage.
The main issue in the dispute, from my perspective, is not the views that Ken Maginnis expressed, but rather the absence of any view or policy on the subject by the leadership of the Ulster Unionist Party.
A political party with no policies is like a supermarket with no products to sell.
Indeed, unlike the policy confusion within the Ulster Unionist Party there was widespread support for Ken Maginnis’s views within Fermanagh and South Tyrone.
Strong opposition to the proposals also exists within the main churches and unionist parties. Ken Maginnis had the courage to speak his mind and represent a significant portion of Northern Ireland society, whilst others prevaricate and fail to show leadership.
One of the problems in Northern Ireland today is that we are being conditioned not to question or resist the deconstruction of the Christian basis of our society.
We are expected to tolerate intolerable things and there are precious few religious or political leaders prepared to stand up and say: Enough is enough.
The leadership of the Ulster Unionist Party should hang their heads in shame at the manner in which they sought to undermine a man who has served the people of Ulster for so long.
The removal of Lord Maginnis, Lady Hermon, David McClarty, David McNarry and the decapitation of the leadership of Tom Elliott must raise serious questions about the political philosophy which underpins the Ulster Unionist Party.
What is the purpose of a political party if it is not to represent the electorate and provide real leadership to the people of Northern Ireland?
If the Ulster Unionist Party does not exist for a purpose then I fear there is no purpose for its existence.
The Ulster Unionists should learn from the public service of Ken Maginnis. Meaningful politics is about knowing your people and their views, not dip sampling and media management.
Norman Baxter is a retired RUC and PSNI detective chief superintendent who now works for a security company