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I doubt Mike Nesbitt's even a unionist anymore, says angry councillor as she quits party

By Suzanne Breen

The first Ulster Unionist to resign over Mike Nesbitt’s pledge to give his second preference vote to the SDLP has branded her former party leader as “arrogant and out of touch with ordinary unionists”.

Councillor Carol Black said she had been delighted when Mr Nesbitt became UUP leader, but she claimed he had since “lost his way” and she now doubted if he was even a unionist.

Ms Black quit the UUP yesterday as Mr Nesbitt launched its election manifesto. She revealed that she wouldn’t join any rival unionist party, but would now sit on Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council as an independent.

The UUP said it was “disappointed but not surprised” at her resignation as she wasn’t prepared to support the party’s “vision of unionism that embraces everyone”.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph last night, Ms Black expressed horror at Mr Nesbitt’s declaration last weekend that he would give his second preference to the nationalist party.

She said that, while unionists could “do business with our Catholic neighbours”, there was nothing shameful in “wanting to vote first for our own people, for fellow Protestants and unionists — that doesn’t make me a bigot”.

She added that other UUP politicians and members shared her views but weren’t as yet prepared to speak out.

The former UUP member  faced widespread criticism after she was photographed in 2014 at a Halloween party clutching fake explosives while standing beside a man dressed as Osama bin Laden.

“I found myself in the middle of this huge controversy and I had a mental breakdown. I hardly left the house in eight months,” she said.

Ms Black, a former bank manager who joined the UUP in 2005, said she had been delighted when Mr Nesbitt became leader. “I thought he was a breath of fresh air who would bring an injection of ambition to the party,” she said.

“Mike was very articulate, professional and modern.”

But Ms Black revealed that she became disillusioned with him  long before his SDLP comments. “I came to see him as arrogant and out of touch with unionists on the ground,” she said.

“He’s more like an actor on a stage performing a well-rehearsed role than a real flesh-and-blood person.

“I would go to UUP Executive meetings and listen to his spiel, and I’d feel like saying: ‘Will the real Mike Nesbitt please stand up.’ I don’t know what his politics are, I don’t know if he is even a unionist.”

Ms Black accused Mr Nesbitt of “destroying the ethos” of the UUP.  “I told him today that his politics are wishy-washy. He suits Colum Eastwood, because he is wishy-washy too.

“I don’t think Mike runs his ideas past anybody. If he consults advisers, they’re as delusional as he is,” she added.

“Unionists are not ready to vote for nationalists. We are still dealing with the past. There is a lot of hurt and people are angry that soldiers and police who protected us are now being prosecuted.”

Ms Black, who was elected a UUP councillor in the Dromore by-election on St Valentine’s Day in 2008, said it was ironic that she was leaving the party on the same day nine years later.

Reacting to her resignation, the leader of the local UUP council group, Jim Speers, said: “As someone who helped fund Carol Black`s successful by-election campaign which opened the door for her to get into elected politics, I’m disappointed but not surprised by her decision to resign from the UUP.

“This has been coming for some time and (we) will move on without her. We have a vision of unionism that embraces everyone and clearly Carol Black does not subscribe to this, given her comments. We are a political party open to all faiths and none.”

From the Woman of the Year to UUP rebel

Carol Black first rose to prominence in 2008 when she delivered an unexpected blow to the DUP by winning the Dromore by-election following the resignation of her party colleague Tyrone Howe, despite the area having a DUP majority.

The former office worker for ex-Ulster Unionist MLA Basil McCrea went on to win the party’s ‘Woman of the Year’ award later that year.

She ploughed a steady furrow as a local government councillor in the then Banbridge Council, and was easily re-elected in 2011. She was elected on to the new Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon District Council in 2014.

However, she was back in the headlines for the wrong reasons later that year after posing for a photograph with fake explosives alongside a man dressed up as the terrorist Osama bin Laden, which sparked fury.

Ms Black apologised over the incident, which she described as a “lapse in judgment”.

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