McCallister and McCrea to sit in the ‘naughty seats’

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Former Ulster Unionists John McCallister, Basil McCrea and David McClarty will ask to be regarded as an informal grouping within the Assembly this morning.

Today will be the first time the Assembly has met since Mr McCallister and Mr McCrea dramatically quit the UUP on Thursday and Friday respectively.

Mr McCallister said the selection of joint UUP/DUP candidate Nigel Lutton to run in the Mid Ulster by-election was the “final straw”, pointing out that he felt it would sectarianise the race and that even with a single unionist candidate the seat remained unwinnable.

Today Mr McCallister and Mr McCrea will move from the Ulster Unionist benches to what Mr McCallister jokingly referred to as the naughty seat, where former Ulster Unionists Mr McClarty and David McNarry (now UKIP) sit.

He said committee allocations will be redesignated with McCrea’s chairmanship of the DEL committee likely to go to an Ulster Unionist MLA. Mr McCallister sat on the OFMDFM committee and the Finance committee, and said he understands he will be appointed to one committee as an independent member.

However, if Mr McCallister, Mr McCrea and Mr McClarty are permitted to designate themselves as a grouping within the Assembly, they may be entitled to more.

“It’s still very early days, I have spoken to David McClarty over the weekend, I think we would certainly like to (be designated as a grouping), if the Assembly would accept that informal grouping,” he told the News Letter last night.

He also said his office in Newcastle is owned by the South Down Ulster Unionist Association. They are due to meet to decide whether to continue renting the office to Mr McCallister.

“That has been one of the hardest parts of resigning, I have many good friends within the association,” he said.

Meanwhile, yesterday Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt refused to rule out fielding more joint candidates with the DUP in future elections.

Speaking on the BBC’s Sunday Politics Mr Nesbitt said he would be foolish to say whether or not he would consider fielding joint candidates in the future before seeing the result of the Mid Ulster by-election.

“Let’s see how the next three weeks go,” he said.

“Will it work for the benefit of unionism and when we get the result from that and the answer from that, we can look at it.

“It would be foolish to rule anything out at this stage.

“We’ve just started a process which to some extent I certainly view as an experiment. Let’s see how well it works for the benefit of the unionist people.”

Mr Nesbitt also rejected the charge that the decision was a return to tribal politics.

“I resent people saying that this is some sort of sectarian head count as if a Catholic wouldn’t possibly vote for Nigel Lutton,” he said.

However in today’s News Letter SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell says that fielding a unity candidate showed “inherent sectarianism”.

“Tribal politics is bad for people and will be bad for Mid Ulster,” he said. “MPs are elected to represent everyone in their constituency, not to pursue a narrow sectarian agenda.”

But doubt was cast over whether there will be just one unionist candidate in the Mid Ulster race last night after victims’ campaigner Willie Frazer said he may yet stand, citing concerns about Mr Lutton’s connection with the DUP.

Mr Frazer initially said he would not stand, although yesterday said he would reconsider if it turned out Mr Lutton was too close to the DUP.

He might stand for the election if he “thought the DUP were trying to be smart”, he said.

“I’m waiting on answers on a couple of things. I was happy with the candidate but I’ve been led to believe that he’s more a DUP candidate. If that’s the case I would have to reconsider. A lot of people are giving me stick, saying this man is DUP. The whole point of standing is to challenge the DUP.

“As of yet nobody from the Unionists or DUP will answer my questions. I thought at the very least, they would have said, ‘Listen, thanks for your support’. I see that as concerning for the reasons that I was warned about ... All they have to say is, ‘Willie, that’s not the case’.

“I hope I get an answer tomorrow because if we don’t we could be submitting our papers. I know that’s not a lot of time, but we don’t need time, we’ve got the people there.”