Personal morals do have a place in politics, says NI21 candidate

NI21 party chairwoman Tina McKenzie
NI21 party chairwoman Tina McKenzie

Weeks after NI21 leader Basil McCrea said it was “really wrong” that MLAs’ personal morals influenced their work at the Assembly, the party’s European candidate has said that she has personal morals which influence her politics.

Tina McKenzie, the new pro-Union party’s chairwoman and standard-bearer in its first electoral test, also told the News Letter that she has not spoken to her ex-IRA prisoner father about her decision to stand for election.

When asked if she had personal morals, Ms McKenzie said that she believed in “fairness” and “ensuring that children have stability”, beliefs which “absolutely” influenced her politics.

However, in a recent Assembly debate on gay marriage, NI21 leader Basil McCrea said: “I think that it is really wrong that we allow personal morals to influence what should be a legislative Assembly.”

Ms McKenzie denied that her position was at variance with that of her leader, suggesting that when Mr McCrea said “personal morals”, he had meant ‘religious beliefs’.

She went on to say: “I think as individuals, if people elect you, then I think yes, people are electing a person that they know and your morals are absolutely very important; that’s the person that you are...however you’re going to have in Stormont 108 people with a moral compass and not all of those moral compasses may be the same.

“I think you have to bring your moral compass with you in the decisions that you make and hopefully within that 108 group of people that you represent society adequately.”

Ms McKenzie stressed the party’s belief that Northern Ireland, as “a small economy on the edge of Europe”, needs to be in the EU. And she said that we could learn from how Europe put World WarTwo behind it to build a new political and economic alliance.

However, unlike some supporters of the EU, Ms McKenzie said that she did not oppose the holding of an in/out referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU.

The party got publicity at the start of the campaign when it erected several Irish language billboards. However, Ms McKenzie said that she only spoke “a few words” of Irish.

Ms McKenzie,who failed her 11-plus and did “just OK” in her GCSEs before working “really, really hard”, is now managing director of a recruitment agency. If elected as an MEP, she said that she would relinquish the role.

She denied that the party was in internal turmoil and had suffered from a high turnover of staff, arguing that as a small party with a small budget, NI21 was more reliant on volunteers than other parties.

Ms McKenzie said that she has not spoken to her father, former IRA man Harry Fitzsimons, about her decision to stand: “I haven’t actually spoken to him in a long time to be honest and I haven’t spoken to him about standing. I know he’s aware that I am standing but I’m 41, I’m my own person, I’m a mother of three. I don’t go to my dad to ask permission for anything. We have very, very different politics so, like it or lump it; that’s what I say.”

‘People have no faith in Stormont any more’

In a recent interview, Ms McKenzie referred to the “stuffy old men” of Stormont who she said would struggle to understand issues important to women.

Asked if that was not a sexist comment, Ms McKenzie said: “No. What you’ve got in Stormont is a heavily [male] dominated government and on average I think their age is 59; we’ve got one of the worst records for female representation in western Europe and we’ve got politicians who are stuck in the past and can’t focus on the future and the present and the real issues in Northern Ireland.

“So it may sound pretty damning, but... most people are saying the same thing – seven out of 10 people have no faith in Stormont because some of the people up there are out of touch with what’s going on on the street; what are they doing for small business owners?” She said that gender was relevant “because it’s completely dominated by men, and not just the government but the civil service”.

Asked about her party’s 100 per cent male representatives at Stormont, Ms McKenzie said that was because it only had two MLAs but that the NI21 board was evenly divided between men and women.

Ms McKenzie denied that NI21 only differed from the Alliance Party on two major points – a commitment to a Stormont Opposition and being pro-Union.

She said: “I think there’s more to it than that. It’s funny, because in the political circles they’ll struggle to see what the difference is with the Alliance. On the doorstep, they don’t struggle at all....Alliance have been around for 40-odd years and in those 40-odd years, what actually have [they] achieved...?”