End of the road for NI21 as Basil McCrea quits politics
THE short-lived NI21 name looks set to disappear from the north's political landscape after leader Basil McCrea announced he will not be seeking re-election.
The Lagan Valley MLA, who was recently the subject of a Stormont standards probe, said he had become disillusioned with politics.
The investigation by the assembly's standards commissioner Douglas Bain cleared Mr McCrea of any wrongdoing in regard to complaints of sexual misconduct and bullying made by staff. However, his fellow MLAs concluded that on occasions the NI21 leader's treatment of party workers fell short of the standard they would encourage.
In 2011 when standing as an Ulster Unionist candidate, Mr McCrea polled 5,771 votes in Lagan Valley, coming second to the DUP's Edwin Poots.
However, with limited resources and recent media attention hanging over him, the NI21 leader was expected to face a much tougher election this time around.
Speaking about his decision to quit politics, 56-year-old NI21 leader said he had become disillusioned after high profile meltdown of the party he helped found nearly three years ago alongside fellow former Ulster Unionist John McCallister.
Relations between the two MLAs remain frosty, with Mr McCrea speaking with bitterness about his one-time colleague and friend.
"I will never forgive him for ruining the party, for depriving Northern Ireland of hope and opportunity and for the personal distress that he has caused my family," he told the Belfast Telegraph.
Mr McCallister has so far declined to comment publicly on the report into the allegations against his former party leader.
According to Mr McCrea, the public response to Mr Bain's probe prompted his decision to leave the political stage.
"Over the past 10 days or so, a number of family members were upset by the reality of politics in Northern Ireland and by the reaction to the report," he said.
"Personally, I can take the rough with the smooth but no man is an island and you have to take on board what family and friends are feeling."
The Lagan Valley MLA insisted the publicity around the allegations and the subsequent report had not damaged him politically.
"The reaction on the doorsteps was not negative," he said of householders' response as he distributed NI21 leaflets in his constituency last week.
"I honestly believe I would have kept my seat. I've worked long and hard and I think I tried to make a difference in politics and not too many politicians can say that.
"But even if I got re-elected I would have been ignored, I wouldn't even have been able to speak much in the assembly."