Northern Ireland

Basil McCrea appears before UUP disciplinary hearing

Basil McCrea said he felt confident he could address any concerns Image copyright Charles McQuillan
Image caption Basil McCrea said he felt confident he could address any concerns

Lagan Valley assembly member Basil McCrea has appeared before an Ulster Unionist Party disciplinary panel.

Mr McCrea lost the party whip in December when he publicly criticised the UUP's handling of the controversy over the flying of the union flag.

As he arrived at the disciplinary meeting, Mr McCrea said he felt quite confident he could address any concerns his party had.

He said that he acted within party policy at all times.

Asked if he would consider legal action if he lost his case, he said he would take whatever options were open to him.

McCrea faces two charges in connection with his criticism of the way the party handled the controversy over flying the union flag at Belfast City Council.

'Stupid idea'

Speaking prior to the meeting, Mr McCrea said: "An awful lot of the allegations, such as I know them at this stage, are about matters of fact.

"I'm able to produce transcripts of statements that I've made and I'm also able to produce written party policy that says I'm absolutely in line with that."

He said he had "always been careful" to make sure he supported party policy.

"I've advanced the policy and the reputation of the Ulster Unionist Party," he said.

One of the charges follows a complaint received on 8 December from Marc Woods, secretary of the Waringstown Branch of the party, alleging Mr McCrea was guilty of "unacceptable behaviour" on the BBC's Nolan Show.

Mr McCrea had condemned the actions of the party's three Belfast councillors in voting against the practice of flying the union flag only on designated days.

The charge also questions his loyalty to the party.

The other charge relates to party leader Mike Nesbitt's decision to remove the whip from Mr McCrea.

The action was taken after Mr McCrea described a joint decision by the two main unionist parties to take the flag dispute to Stormont's Assembly Commission as a "stupid idea".

'High stakes'

The disciplinary panel sitting on Friday, is made up of five members, including former party chairman James Cooper and Lady Trimble.

BBC political correspondent Gareth Gordon said: "The stakes are high here both for Mike Nesbitt and Basil McCrea.

"Basil McCrea is one of the Ulster Unionists' most articulate MLAs but is an increasingly controversial figure inside the party's senior ranks.

"If Mr McCrea loses, it seems likely the case will end up in the High Court which could mean more damaging publicity for a party which has had more than its fair share."

Speaking shortly before he went into the meeting, Mr McCrea said that as long as the party stayed on the course laid down by the Belfast Agreement, he would stay with it.

Following the hearing the UUP released a statement saying: "The disciplinary committee of the Ulster Unionist Party met this afternoon with Mr McCrea and will now give careful consideration to the representations he made to it.'

"The determination of the committee will be issued in due course."

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