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Editor's Viewpoint

Nesbitt did the right thing stepping down

Editor's Viewpoint


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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)

Former Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt called it right when he said he had made 'some very poor decisions' after being caught out breaking the lockdown rules. As an MLA, part of his duty is to set an example to the public at large by adhering to the stay at home advice.

Instead he was found to have made several journeys to the home of a female friend on the north coast and, to his credit, has resigned from his post as Deputy Chair of the Committee for the Executive Office and has said he will not be returning while lockdown lasts.

He has done the right thing by standing down, a decision which is too seldom taken by politicians here when mistakes land at their door.

Mr Nesbitt's party leader did not mince his words when he described his colleague's actions as unacceptable and that he had made a huge mistake. It was an error of judgement made all the worse by the fact that Robin Swann, another former UU leader, is the Health Minister in the Executive and has been leading from the front in the battle against coronavirus. Mr Swann has also strenuously encouraged everyone to adhere to the rules and must feel let down that one of his most senior colleagues has failed to do so.

However, Mr Nesbitt is a popular MLA and is recognised as one of the most moderate voices within unionism, even if his close political relationship with SDLP leader Colum Eastwood - encouraging vote transfers between the parties, 'vote Mike, get Colum' - led to a thumping electoral defeat and his decision to step down as UU leader.

This is a very difficult time for Mr Nesbitt on a personal basis. His beloved mother died a few weeks ago and he revealed at the weekend he is living outside the marital home. Without doubt his wife and two children will find this episode embarrassing.

While Mr Nesbitt made no attempt to try to mitigate his breaking of the lockdown rules, in his defence it should be said he was travelling alone in his car to a destination where he did not mix with other people apart from his friend. He may well have felt that his actions breached the strict letter of the rules, but did not pose a threat to attempts to curb the spread of the disease. It is highly unlikely that he is the only person in Northern Ireland to break the lockdown rules, but he had to pay the price for his public profile. He strongly supports the NHS and its frontline staff yet his actions undid that work.

Belfast Telegraph