McCrea 'confident' over party hearing

McCrea 'confident' over party hearing

High profile Ulster Unionist Basil McCrea is set to appear before a party disciplinary hearing on Friday over comments he made about the ongoing flag dispute.

Mr McCrea opposed his party earlier this month over a DUP amendment to a UUP motion calling for the Assembly's commitment to inclusivity, mutual respect, peace and democracy, in the wake of the unrest.

The DUP wanted to remove a reference to the Good Friday Agreement.

Ahead of the hearing, Mr McCrea told UTV Live Tonight: "I'm certainly very confident in the case that I have and I welcome the opportunity to explain and answer any questions and I am sure that I will be able to put forward a very compelling case."

The long serving Unionist politician said at the time of the motion disagreement that he could not support his party's position.

"I will not accept that the Belfast Agreement can be so easily discarded and I refuse to accept that the DUP amendment is anything other than an attack on the Belfast Agreement," he said.

Mr McCrea recently had the UUP whip removed after he spoke out of line with the party's stance on flying the Union flag at Belfast City Hall.

He agreed with the Alliance Party motion of flying the flag on designated days, and said he felt his stance was in accordance with UUP policy.

Regarding Friday's hearing, he explained: "An awful lot of it is based on the written world - it's not conjecture. Whether it's a transcript or whether it's votes and policy in terms of the Northern Ireland Assembly or Westminster, it's all written down.

"And so, it's not a thing you can have a debate upon."

There is party policy. I'm quite sure I'm on party policy and I'm quite sure that whenever I was speaking, I was speaking in the right way about it.

Basil McCrea

The party has refused to comment saying "it would be inappropriate ahead of tomorrow's hearing".

But some suggest the outworkings of this latest debacle have far wider implications for the party and even Unionism itself.

The UUP is facing what could be a watershed moment after a year of damaging fallouts.

Mike Nesbitt was elected leader in March 2012 as successor to Tom Elliott. The Strangford MLA stood against John McCallister, winning with 536 votes to 129.

Last September, Mr McCallister, the party's South Down MLA, made a speech to young Unionists at an event held to mark the Centenary of the Ulster Covenant.

The speech's contents were seen by his party leader as accusing the UUP of "sleepwalking into Unionist unity." He was subsequently removed as deputy leader of the party's Assembly group.

Earlier this month, former Ulster Unionist MLA Fred Cobain left the party and joined the DUP.

The former Mayor of Belfast, who was in the party for 31 years, said he had become "disillusioned" with the organisation, which he believes is in decline.

Meanwhile, Mr McCrea is insisting he's still a committed Ulster Unionist and plays down any suggestion of starting a new liberal pro-Union party.

But he does believe there is a swathe of voters dissatisfied with politics.

"I certainly will fight my corner.

"It's right and proper to have a debate within parties - and in fact, outside parties - about what is the right way forward.

"A difference of opinion isn't necessarily a bad thing," he continued.

"If the difference is so big, if it is the case that we are no longer wedded to the Belfast Agreement, to a shared future and to all the issues that I think the party made sacrafices to deliver, well then, I do think that we all need to get our heads together to work out what's the best way for everybody."


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