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Mike Nesbitt in blistering attack on Peter Robinson's 'hypocrisy' and DUP dithering

By Noel McAdam

Published 20/02/2014

Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt
Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt has launched a blistering attack on the DUP and warned that trust in politics here was at an all-time low.

In a speech effectively marking the start of his party's European and local council elections fight, he attacked Peter Robinson for criticising previous UUP Health Minister Michael McGimpsey and then promising additional funding for his own party's minister, Edwin Poots.

"How can you trust a leader who tells one Health Minister he is engaging in obscene posturing, but tells another offering the same warning that money is not an object?" he asked.

Mr Nesbitt also pointed to the collapsed proposal for a peace centre at the Maze/Long Kesh and the long-delayed Education and Skills Authority which does not legally exist but has already cost taxpayers more than £15m.

He went on: "It is, by the way, 40 months – over three years – since Peter Robinson said the education of Protestant and Catholics in separate schools in Northern Ireland was a benign form of apartheid. He promised a commission, telling us 'future generations will not thank us if we fail to address this issue'.

"Never mind future generations, the current generation should hold his feet to the fire over this failure," he said.

Now more than 18 months in office – and having worked with Mr Robinson on establishing the Unionist Forum and a joint candidate in the Mid-Ulster Parliamentary election – Mr Nesbitt claimed the DUP had worked hard at undermining public confidence in his party.

He argued that, in 1998, the DUP had failed to join the UUP in negotiations to secure a better deal for unionism in the Good Friday Agreement and instead "put their own party first".

Speaking at the annual general meeting of the party's East Antrim association, he argued the DUP sought votes "by telling people what to be afraid of".

"'Vote for us, or something awful will happen to you.' I want to break that destructive habit..." he added.

Turning to the ongoing talks involving the five main party leaders over the Haass proposals on flags, parades and dealing with the past, the UUP leader said initiatives by the Assembly and Executive alone would not work.

"Yes, we can look at a new Historical Investigative Unit. Yes, we can examine the merits of an Independent Commission for Information Recovery. Yes, there may be merit in an Implementation and Reconciliation Group. But no new body will win hearts and minds without the political will to build the missing mutual trust.

"Trust in politics is at an all-time low.

"I want to rebuild that trust," said Mr Nesbitt.

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