Belfast Telegraph

Nesbitt vows to give UUP 'a sense of purpose' after victory

Former television presenter, Mike Nesbitt, has become the new leader of the Ulster Unionist Party.

Mr Nesbitt (54) was elected by a ballot of party members in Belfast, last weekend.

He defeated his fellow UUP leadership rival John McCallister following a fiercely-fought leadership battle which revolved around whether or not the UUP were to take up opposition in the Assembly.

He has pledged to instil a new spirit among people in Northern Ireland.

"I want everyone in this country to get out of bed with a sense of purpose. I want this party to wake up with a sense of purpose," he said.

"I want us to reach out to become the party of choice for every pro-union voter in Northern Ireland, including those who still say they want a United Ireland, but privately accept there is no longer a single reason not to enjoy their continued membership of the United Kingdom."

Around 850 people attended the party AGM in Belfast and there were around 660 voters.

The UUP is the minority unionist party after it was overtaken in the polls by the Democratic Unionists following the signing of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement which secured the peace process.

It has been hit by division and its last leader Tom Elliott was only elected 18 months ago.

Mr Nesbitt told members at the meeting in a Belfast hotel: "We need loyalty, trust, discipline, these are the values that must underpin our dedication to public service. This is a great party, today in your vote you have empowered us to say that the last 14 years are over."

Mr Nesbitt was elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly last year for Strangford and before that he was a Victim's Commissioner.

Mr McCallister, who delivered his wife Jane's second baby earlier this week, finished a distant second, netting only about a third of the votes.

An issue Mr Nesbitt brought up in his campaign was unionist unity with the Assembly, and in his opening pitch he said: "As for Unionist Unity, I have no objection to a debate on what that means, but after so many years as a broadcast journalist, interviewing senior DUP figures, and my more recent experience of fielding their inventive in the Assembly Chamber, I am entirely sceptical about what would motivate them to call for co-operation beyond self-interest."

DUP MLA Simon Hamilton has said grassroots unionists will be disappointed but 'hardly surprised' by Mike Nesbitt's position on unionist cooperation.

The Strangford MLA said: "The unionists that I meet throughout the country yearn for unity. They want to see the DUP working with the UUP.

"They want the pro-union family working together. It disappointed, but didn't surprise me that Mike's first policy announcements were that he wants to defeat the DUP and is against unionist unity.

"His words on not wanting to work with fellow unionists stand in stark contrast to the actions of the leadership and senior members of the UUP under Tom Elliott."

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