Veteran unionist David McNarry has confirmed that he is retiring from politics, saying that he missed too much of the lives of his daughters as they grew up.
The former Ulster Unionist, who quit the party in 2012 and subsequently joined Ukip, confirmed news which was widely expected as he launched Ukip’s Assembly election manifesto on Wednesday.
At Ukip’s Northern Ireland conference last November, Mr McNarry unveiled the party’s candidates for the Assembly election – but his name was missing. However, when asked at the time whether that meant he was retiring, the then Strangford MLA said that there had been no candidate announced for West Belfast and he could be a unionist unity candidate in that constituency.
On Wednesday he said that it was “time to pass the baton on”.
Mr McNarry, who is Ukip’s Northern Ireland leader, has had health issues in recent years. But the Orangeman and former adviser to David Trimble told the News Letter that a major factor behind his decision was his family.
When asked why he was stepping down from frontline politics, he said: “I’m 68 and in truth I didn’t really see my two daughters grow up. I don’t want to miss my granddaughters growing up.”
Three months ago, veteran Castlereagh Alliance councillor Geraldine Rice expressed similar comments about the impact of politics on family life.
She said that in years of devoting herself to politics “really and truly I did not always put my family first – I mean my grandchildren – and now they are all gone to university. They grow up so fast.”
Mr McNarry said that Ukip leader Nigel Farage had asked him to stay on as party leader in Northern Ireland until after the referendum in June.
The former MLA said that it was his intention that the next leader would be an MLA. Mr McNarry said that he believed the party could see “four to five” MLAs returned in next month’s election. He said that the Single Transferable Vote system used by the Assembly would favour the party as it is “transfer friendly”.
Mr McNarry denied that the party had been in a degree of internal turmoil over recent months, despite the acrimonious departure of it Northern Ireland chairman, Henry Reilly, and a power struggle at the top of Ukip in England in the wake of last year’s General Election.
He said that those issues were “not on the radar” and insisted that they would not harm its vote.
At the manifesto launch, 13 Ukip candidates were confirmed. There will be Ukip candidates in every area except South Down, Foyle, Fermanagh and South Tyrone, West Tyrone and West Belfast. At the party’s conference in November, it announced that Bill Piper would stand in West Tyrone, but he will now instead stand in North Down.
Ukip’s national deputy leader Paul Nuttall was present for the launch.
He said that “the UK is under attack” from nationalists in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. He called for a “Celtic coalition of Ukip members... to protect and preserve our union”.
He urged voters to support Ukip, which has candidates throughout the UK, rather than “provincial imitations”.
Nine Ukip manifesto proposals
• Support for fracking for shale gas “with proper safeguards”.
• No more NHS waiting lists for appointments to ease pain.
• Visitors to the UK and immigrants would have to pay five years of national insurance and have private health insurance before being allowed into the country.
• Protect grammar schools from any change to their status.
• Abolishment of tuition fees for students taking certain degrees in science, medicine, technology, engineering and maths if they work and pay tax in the UK for five years after graduating.
• “Ukip will outlaw local tax-dodging and benefit fraud”.
• Businesses “will be able to prioritise young British workers”.
• Repeal the Climate Change Act and remove all subsidies for wind farms.
• An Australian points-based system for immigration.