Northern Ireland

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt rules out electoral pact with DUP

The new Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt has ruled out forging any electoral pact with the DUP.

"I can't imagine any circumstances where it would be good for the Ulster Unionist Party, good for the pro-union people of Northern Ireland or good for politics to have an electoral pact," he told the BBC's Sunday Politics.

The former broadcaster said he would take the UUP's sole ministerial seat on the Northern Ireland Executive at some point before the next assembly election.

"I think it would be good for the Ulster Unionist leader to be in the executive," he said.

Mr Nesbitt, 54, defeated South Down assembly member John McCallister by 536 votes to 129 in the contest on Saturday at the UUP annual general meeting in Belfast.


At the centre of the campaign was whether to back Mr Nesbitt's plan to remain part of the coalition Northern Ireland Executive and keep the party's one ministerial position, or to go into opposition as favoured by Mr McCallister.

Mr Nesbitt said the party needed "to be more cohesive as a unit and to be more coherent in the messages that we bring to the public".

"The really big challenge is delivering the social justice agenda in the Belfast Agreement which hasn't been delivered," said the Strangford assembly member.

"It's about bringing about the shared, and not the 'shared-out' future, and that's where we will draw a line between ourselves and the Democratic Unionist Party."

Mr Nesbitt said it was important to connect with ordinary people who feel the work done by Stormont is not relevant to them.

"I grew up in leafy suburbs in north and east Belfast, but if I had been born a mile down the road closer to the city centre you might never heard of me," he said.

"What I'm thinking is we're not connected, and maybe what I need to do is go and find a family who will adopt me for 24 hours.

"I'd like to live in an area of social deprivation because I think it's important to get a feel of what it's like."

'Yearn for unity'

The DUP said Mr Nesbitt's rejection of a unionist pact was disappointing.

"The unionists that I meet throughout the country yearn for unity," the party's Simon Hamilton said.

"They want to see the DUP working with the UUP. They want the pro-union family working together.

"It disappointed, but didn't surprise, me that Mike's first policy announcements were that he wants to defeat the DUP and is against unionist unity."

Mr Nesbitt takes over from Tom Elliott, who announced last month he was standing down as leader after just 18 months in the job.

Mr Nesbitt is a former presenter of UTV news, and presented its evening news programme for 10 years before leaving in 2006.

He began his career as a sports presenter at the BBC, anchoring the flagship Good Morning Ulster radio programme for a number of years.

He became a Victims' Commissioner in 2008. He left the commission when he joined the UUP in 2010.

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