NI21 candidate slams move by Basil McCrea to appoint chair

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NI21, which is facing an uncertain future after open divisions and a disastrous first election, has a new chairwoman.

The party’s first chair, Tina McKenzie, quit the role before polling had even finished on Thursday and subsequently said that she was finished with politics.

Yesterday, although the party made no formal announcement, party sources confirmed that leader Basil McCrea had appointed Jayne Howson to take over from Ms McKenzie. It is understood that Ms Howson will initially take up the role on an interim basis.

In Thursday’s council election, Ms Howson actually polled fewer votes than her predecessor, being supported by 169 voters in Comber, as opposed to 256 voters who backed Ms McKenzie in Balmoral.

One of Ms Howson’s first tasks will be to decide on the party response to a report into allegations of sexual misconduct against the party leader. The allegations are strongly denied by Mr McCrea, who has suggested a conspiracy against the party, and he has said that he is taking legal action over the claims, though has refused to say who he is legally threatening.

Neil McNickle, an NI21 candidate in Lisburn, condemned the decision and called on the party leader to quit.

He told the News Letter: “It is disappointing and totally undemocratic that party leader Basil McCrea has decided to appoint Ms Howson without any consultation with the party membership.

“Further, this move is unlikely to build confidence within the party at a time when morale is at rock bottom following the disastrous election results.”

He added: “I would call on Mr McCrea to step aside and give the party a chance to rebuild.”

Yesterday Ms McKenzie, who was also NI21’s European election candidate, polling 10,553 votes, was one of several candidates not to show up for the declaration.

Mr McCrea, who appeared at the count on Monday and spoke to journalists, was also absent yesterday but deputy leader John McCallister and director of communications Nigel Macauley spent most of the day at the count.