| 19.1°C Belfast

Nesbitt should resign as an MLA over lockdown breach, says former UUP councillor

Mike Nesbitt

Former Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt should resign for his "selfish and arrogant" breach of lockdown rules to visit a female friend, a former party councillor has said.

Veteran UUP member Chris McGimpsey told the Belfast Telegraph that Mr Nesbitt should "do the decent thing" and step down as an MLA.

A senior party source said there was anger in the party that Mr Nesbitt had flouted the rules to travel to the north coast at a time when UUP Health Minister Robin Swann and NHS staff were working "night and day" and urging the public to rigorously obey the restrictions.

Mr Nesbitt (62) apologised for his actions which were revealed in Sunday World.

He stood down as Deputy Chair of the Committee for the Executive Office at Stormont but is continuing as Strangford MLA.

Mr McGimpsey said: "Many grassroots Ulster Unionist members think that Mike should resign his seat immediately.

"Steve Aiken has described his actions as totally unacceptable. This was a stupid, selfish and arrogant breach of lockdown rules which calls Mike's political judgment into question. None of us like lockdown. I have seven grandchildren and they live five miles down the road from me but I don't see them because following the rules helps save lives in the fight against coronavirus."

Mr McGimpsey said that Mr Nesbitt had "seriously embarrassed the party" and he questioned whether he would be re-selected if he chose to run for the Assembly again.

Mr Nesbitt could not be contacted for comment yesterday.

The Sunday World reported that the former UUP leader had visited a female friend in Portballintrae.

Mr Nesbitt admitted making some "very poor decisions" and confirmed that he has been living apart from his wife, Lynda Bryans, for four months.

"Since late January, well before lockdown, I have been living alone in a rented room in accommodation far north of Belfast.

"Recently I have stayed occasionally in a three-bedroom property occupied full-time by a female friend."

He said it had been a challenging time and apologised for making the trips to stay at his friend's home.

"This has been a stressful and difficult period for me and unfortunately I have made some very poor decisions," he said. "I am remorseful and apologise. I shall not return during lockdown." The PSNI said it had not received any complaints about a 62-year-old visiting Portballintrae in breach of lockdown rules.

DUP First Minister Arlene Foster said that Mr Nesbitt had done "the right thing" by resigning from the Committee of the Executive Office.

Speaking at yesterday's Executive press briefing, Mrs Foster she said: "I think it is important to say that everybody has to stick by the regulations that were made in the Assembly. Mike has recognised that he didn't. He has stepped aside from that role and I think that is the right thing to do".

Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill, said that Mr Nesbitt had acknowledged that what he did "wasn't appropriate".

She added: "We are in difficult times but none of us are exempt from these regulations.

UUP leader Steve Aiken has criticised his Strangford MLA.

"Breaking the lockdown regulations is totally unacceptable, no matter who you are," he said.

"Mike has made a huge mistake and he has accepted what he did was wrong.

"The lockdown rules are there to help save lives and the message remains the same. Stay home, protect the NHS, save lives."

In March, the former UUP leader spoke movingly of the death of his 93-year old mother, Brenda Nesbitt, known as Paddy.

When Robin Swann announced he was resigning as UUP leader last October, Mr Nesbitt considered standing for the leadership again but ruled himself out due to a heart problem.

Belfast Telegraph