McCrea: NI21 to stand ‘as an idea’

Mr McCrea pictured during a interview in the Belfast office of the News Letter in February 2013, before setting up NI21
Mr McCrea pictured during a interview in the Belfast office of the News Letter in February 2013, before setting up NI21

NI21 leader Basil McCrea has said that his party intends to “stand as an idea”, and that the public will be drawn to it in time.

Following the departure on Tuesday of Lisburn councillor Johnny McCarthy – the only politician to have been elected under the NI21 banner – Mr McCrea and NI21 on Wednesday refused to talk to the News Letter for a second day about the news, with its chairwoman hanging up the phone.

Basil McCrea

Basil McCrea

However, Mr McCrea did post an hour-long video of himself talking on the internet.

In the home-made video he criticises the traditional press and talks about social media as a means of communicating between politicians and the electorate.

While refusing to answer any questions from the News Letter about the state of his party, at one point in the video (roughly 10 minutes in) he declares that the public is growing tired of “spin, and news management, and image projection”.

The video saw him answer questions from web users, and he touches on a range of topics, from fuel poverty to drug policy and unionism in general. At one point he mentions the fluoridation of the water supply.

Lisburn & Castlereagh councillor Johnny McCarthy

Lisburn & Castlereagh councillor Johnny McCarthy

At about 14 minutes in he said: “I think you have to look at everything as being a long-term initiative.

“There’s no doubt that NI21 has suffered a lot of damage over the last year-and-a half, and damage that’s largely unfair.”

When asked (after about 20 minutes) about the party’s membership, he said the party is “more a movement than a membership organisation”.

He said it was “too early to say” if NI21 would be fielding many candidates in the 2016 Assembly election.

He later said: “What I intend to do with the party is stand as an idea. And over the period of time I think people will change. I think people will come to it. We’ve certainly learned a lot.”

Finally asked about 49 minutes into the video about councillor McCarthy’s departure – the reasons for which remain unclear – he said: “I understand Johnny’s decision I respect it and wish him well for the future, and any more than that, there’s not much more to say.”

The issue does not arise again in the rest of the broadcast.

Mr McCrea, who was elected to serve the Lagan Valley constituency as a UUP MLA in 2011 before quitting the party to set up NI21 in 2013, had been invited by the News Letter to answer questions through a medium of his choice – online, or by telephone – on Tuesday.

This was extended again on Wednesday, and he was called twice, but did not respond.

Olive Buckley, party chairwoman, answered the telephone on Wednesday but said: “I don’t want to speak to you. Ok? Bye bye.”

On Tuesday night, Mr McCrea posted a video of himself at a house party.

Councillor McCarthy (who remains as an independent councillor) likewise declined the invitation of an interview to talk about why he left or what he may do next.

Mr McCrea and some other NI21 members have displayed reluctance to answer questions in the past, or have voiced distain for the traditional media in general (see this link from December 2014, this one from the same month, and this one from May).

Although Mr McCrea has been critical of the press, and shown unwillingness to engage in interviews with reporters, the Lagan Valley MLA has claimed about £10,000-worth of public money to purchase high-tech gadgets which allow him to self-produce material such as videos, in order to help him “communicate with the electorate”.