A UUP councillor who attacked the Ulster Unionist press office in a speech not cleared by the press office is facing disciplinary action – despite a late attempt to distance himself from the speech.
On Friday night Mark McKinty, the deputy mayor of Larne, launched a blistering attack on the party’s direction, communication and prospects for the European election.
He attempted to offer an alternative to the party’s current strategy and suggested the party learn from Fine Gael’s rise from obscurity to power in Dublin.
In a copy of the speech sent to the News Letter on Friday afternoon by the 25-year-old’s public relations advisor Jonathan Rainey, Cllr McKinty said of the UUP: “Our credibility is in tatters.”
In the speech, reported in Saturday’s paper, he said it was “sorely disappointing” that the UUP had not launched Province-wide campaigns on issues such as fuel poverty and prices.
And Cllr McKinty, one of the UUP’s youngest elected representatives, said of his party’s press office: “Our internal media and communications strategy is so detached from voters that journalists now don’t pay attention to our press releases, or indeed to our press conferences. Today, we have dug ourselves into a hole, a hole of irrelevance and that must end.”
Cllr McKinty, who was first elected last year, told the UUP’s South and West Down branch that the party needed to learn from Fine Gael, where Enda Kenny had managed to “get everyone singing from the same hymn sheet” and had reorganised the party internally.
However, hours after making the speech, Cllr McKinty claimed on his Twitter account that he had been misquoted and said that far from the party’s credibility being “in tatters”, it was in his view “intact”.
The following day the Larne deputy mayor deleted his Twitter account.
It is understood that Cllr McKinty received a series of phone calls from unhappy UUP officials on Friday night.
When asked yesterday whether Cllr McKinty was being disciplined, a UUP spokesman said: “An internal review process is active and therefore no official public comment will be made at this stage.”
When contacted by the News Letter yesterday, Cllr McKinty said that he was going into a meeting. At the time of going to press, he had not returned calls.
However, in an email on Saturday, Cllr McKinty claimed that there were “quotes flying about that were not said by me”.
He added: “I fear that the speech which has been made public was not the actual draft I used.”
However, when contacted by the News Letter yesterday, Mr Rainey, a former member of both Young Unionists and former Fine Gael councillor, said: “The drafting of the speech and the associated publicity surrounding it was all in accordance with the client’s request. Nothing was done without the client’s knowledge and authority.”