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Lindy McDowell

It's hard to square Mike Nesbitt's daft lockdown behaviour with the right-thinking man that he is

Lindy McDowell


Mike Nesbitt admitted a breach of lockdown rules (Kelvin Boyes/PA)

Mike Nesbitt admitted a breach of lockdown rules (Kelvin Boyes/PA)

Mike Nesbitt admitted a breach of lockdown rules (Kelvin Boyes/PA)

Cambridge-educated, journalist, broadcaster, Victims' Commissioner, Unionist Party leader, MLA, mental health campaigner - a brief rundown of Mike Nesbitt's impressive CV.

To which now add a further title...


Mr Nesbitt has resigned as Deputy Chair of the Committees of the Executive Office after it was revealed that he'd been travelling between his full time address "a rented room in accommodation far north of Belfast" to Portballintrae and what he describes primly as "a three-bedroom property occupied full time by a female friend".

In the Sunday World exclusive which broke the story, Nesbitt confirmed to reporter Steven Moore that in January this year he'd moved out of the family home where he had been living with his wife, the journalist and broadcaster Lynda Bryans.

By flouting current government lockdown rules on social distancing and unnecessary travel, Mr Nesbitt has indeed, as his party boss Steve Aiken puts it, "made a huge mistake".

His UUP colleague Robin Swann, the Assembly's Health Minister, has been to the forefront of the Executive's battle against Covid-19.

In the toughest of roles, Mr Swann has been doing an admirable job in maintaining lockdown morale, urging the public to continue sticking to the guidelines. Mr Nesbitt hasn't just let himself down.

As angry locals from the Portballintrae area have pointed out, the rules are there for compelling reason - to stop the spread of the killer virus.

It hasn't helped that in a recent radio interview Nesbitt implied he was still living in the family home as he described how he'd been "cleaning out the attic".

Mike, as we now know, had been spending lockdown elsewhere than in the loft.

He's done wrong, he's been foolish and he's done damage not only to his own political career but doubtless hurt his family too.

He did put his hands up right away, he apologised, he resigned.

But for a man who is undeniably highly intelligent this wasn't just selfish behaviour, it was also very stupid.

"Do as I say, not as I do" never turns out well for a public figure. (See also, Dr Catherine Calderwood, the former Scottish Chief Medical Officer, below, who resigned after she too admitted travelling between two homes).

In fairness Mike Nesbitt has had a very hard few months. Marriage difficulties are distressing for all concerned. That will have taken its toll. And then only a few weeks ago he lost his beloved mother.

Brenda who was known to her family as Paddy, died at the age of 93.

In a particularly moving and heartfelt tribute in this paper, Nesbitt talked about the support and backing his mother had given him in life.

"To get unconditional love from someone like that, it gives you wings," he said.

It was a touching emotional soul-baring from a man whose public persona tends to be a bit on the reserved and even starchy side.

In real life Mike Nesbitt is a kindly, decent sort. It's hard to square his daft lockdown behaviour with the right-thinking man that he is.

But we all make mistakes.

And the one-time UUP leader has surely learnt a harsh lesson.

Can he recover politically from this? Who's to say?

He's been a popular figure with the public since his days as a UTV news anchor and although the revelation of his foul-up at this difficult time for everyone isn't going to do him any favours, his resignation and apology will be seen as the right and honourable thing to do.

For now though he will be counting the cost of his lockdown lunacy. What possessed him?

He really would have been safer staying home.

Belfast Telegraph