Maginnis resigns rejecting leader's 11th hour offer

Published: 30 Aug 2012 13:000 comments

The events that led to the announcement of Lord Maginnis' resignation from the UUP on Tuesday, after a membership of 50 years, stemmed from an interrupted business breakfast in London back in June.

Pictured in 2010, Lord Maginnis with Tom Elliott and Mike Nesbitt.

Lord Maginnis, who was Fermanagh/south Tyrone MP for 18 years until 2001, was about to sit down to eat when the call came from Stephen Nolan to appear on his show. The peer's remarks about gay marriage on the Radio Ulster programme led to the withdrawal of the party whip by the party leader Mike Nesbitt. A summer of behind-the scenes discord ensued which ended with Lord Maginnis' resignation, unchanged by his leader's offer on Tuesday to restore the whip.

Recalling the events of June 13, Lord Maginnis said: "I was out having a meeting with someone in London and having a quick bite of breakfast when Stephen Nolan rang and said he wanted to talk to me about what, I can't remember. I said I can't do it here. I went round the corner to a quiet street and he started talking about gay marriage. I said absolutely not. He said why not. I said it erodes morality of society. Marriage is something between a man and a woman, ordained by the church, not ordained by state legislation. I do not intend for it to be eroded or watered down.

"He said why not. I said it erodes standards and values. It is a rung on the ladder. The next time we will have some group wanting to legislate to legitimise bestiality".

Lord Maginnis referred to an Australian professor who advocates reducing the age of consent. "It brings it into the sphere of paedophilia," he said. Such legislation could lead to a country being "influenced by a crowd of sex perverts".

In the days that followed the Nolan programme, the UUP released a statement that party leader Mike Nesbitt had withdrawn the whip from Lord Maginnis after he made comments without the permission of the party press office.

Lord Maginnis believes party rules were broken. "This is crucial. The leader and the Chairman broke the party rules. You cannot withdraw the whip and then say to somebody there is no charge and hence you have no appeal. We had a short meeting. I said I am warning you that you are wrong. I said I want to see the charge on paper and the date of the appeal. I got a letter back saying there is no charge and no appeal, it is the leader's prerogative. The party rules say the leader has the right to arbitrarily withdraw the whip but the member has the immediate right of appeal".

In the behind-the-scenes emailed correspondence between Lord Maginnis, the party Chairman Reg Empey and Mike Nesbitt that were sent to the press this week, it shows that Lord Maginnis gave his party leader three options.

The first was to withdraw publicly from the position he adopted, the second was to immediately convene a disciplinary hearing and the third was to tender his resignation as party leader. In this email Lord Maginnis said that he had been "humiliated" by the "perverse and superficial action" taken by the leader.

Mr. Nesbitt responded that "by late September/early October this matter can be regarded as having passed, we can then focus on your 40 years service to the UUP".

"I said no bl***y way, excuse my French," said Lord Maginnis.

"He is prepared to sacrifice an old hand. I have the reputation of being a hard man. I do not take prisoners. I do not waste time on foolish things. What he thought was 'Ken Maginnis is the longest serving active politician in the party. He has the reputation of being a hard man. If I kick him in the goolies he will double over and go away'. He will be seen as a hard man. It was about proving he was a tougher guy than I am. He is -- in his sleep."

On the issue of speaking out without consulting the party press office, he said: "There has always vaguely been some sort of understanding if you do not know something on policy, check with the press office. There is no question of me now knowing something. I know exactly what I am saying. Never under Molyneaux or Trimble were we compelled to check with the press office. When I went to represent Unionism in America, I was the first person to do it on live television, nobody gave me a sanction."

His resignation, made public on Tuesday and sent to the Party Chairman Reg Empey on Sunday, stated that he had been "humiliated specifically and intentionally by the UUP party leader".

On Tuesday, Mr. Nesbitt sent Lord Maginnis an email, offering to restore the whip and a meeting on Thursday (today) or Friday.

Lord Maginnis replied: "Just don't pretend Mike -- you were given long and due notice; you were given a number of options but perhaps thought I was able to be patronised by this eleventh hour gesture. YOU are destroying the party -- not me -- even your supposed 'presentational skills' have been noticeable in their absence".

Yesterday (Wednesday) he said that the offer from Mr. Nesbitt had come "too late".

"I told them on Sunday . . . he came back at 26 minutes to nine on Tuesday. He thinks I have been sitting still".

He refers to multiple messages of support he has received from around the world.

He has "no interest" in joining another party. As for the future of the UUP, he said: "I did not do this for self-satisfaction or to lead a mass exodus. I am hoping that people will go to the party leader and say 'You have gone too far. Do it the party's way or goodbye Mike'. I am hoping that will happen".

He said he felt a "sadness for Northern Ireland and the people of Northern Ireland".

"If anything I can say or do that can get ordinary people up on their feet and say we do not want our inheritance watered down, our principles watered down for our children and grandchildren coming behind us. We want to maintain some sort of standard".

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