Belfast Telegraph

McCallister disappointed at sacking

Ulster Unionist MLA John McCallister has expressed his disappointment after party leader Mike Nesbitt sacked him as deputy leader of the UUP's Assembly team.

Mr Nesbitt stripped the South Down member of his post after he claimed the party was "sleepwalking" into unionist unity with the DUP.

In response, Mr McCallister resigned as the UUP's health spokesman.

"If the leader has lost confidence in me as deputy leader I think it's best for him and the party that I step aside as health spokesman too," he said.

The 40-year-old father of two made the contentious comments in a speech to a group of Young Unionists on Saturday night at an event to mark the centenary of the signing of the pro-Union Ulster Covenant.

It is understood Mr Nesbitt viewed the remarks as a criticism of his stewardship. In the wake of his dismissal, Mr McCallister insisted the tenor of his speech was in line with his leader's own views on unity.

But a statement from the UUP's Assembly group indicated that the "sleepwalking" phrase was the crux of the problem, with Mr Nesbitt having apparently received a number of complaints from party members about Mr McCallister's choice of words.

"I am disappointed at the decision of Mike Nesbitt to remove me as deputy leader of the Ulster Unionist Party's Assembly group but I accept that he has the right," said Mr McCallister.

"I made comments in a speech to a Young Unionist dinner to mark the centenary of the Ulster Covenant and I stated that I did not believe unity to be helpful to unionism or to Northern Ireland as a whole.

"I am disappointed at the leader's decision as I believe that in the majority of my remarks I was quoting from the leader's speech at the party conference and I remain very supportive of his call to end sectarianism and tribal politics."

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