Veteran Ulster Unionist politician Samuel Gardiner, who was dumped by the party before last May’s election, feels Mike Nesbitt’s naivety has cost the UUP dearly.
The 76-year-old Lurgan man said his party committed “electoral suicide” in the recent Assembly poll, adding that unionists created the perfect platform for Sinn Fein to “run rings round them”.
Speaking to the Lurgan Mail in the aftermath of the election he said he feared for the ‘once-great’ Ulster Unionist Party, adding that a single unionist party could now emerge.
Of Mr Nesbitt he said: “For a man with a Cambridge education and background in the media, he has shown an amazing lack of people skills and political know-how.
“The decision to go into a so-called opposition at Stormont was ineffective. Our party lost an excellent Minister when Danny Kennedy had to stand down and join the back benches.
“This was compounded when Danny – a compassionate, talented and humble man – lost his seat in Newry and Armagh, even though he attracted more votes than any of the 10 UUP candidates who made it – including Mike Nesbitt who struggled home in Strangford.
“Nesbitt’s statement about transferring votes to SDLP was political suicide. I think he’ll disappear from Northern Ireland politics, and he may drag the once-great Ulster Unionist Party with him. It looks as if one unionist party will emerge.”
Mr Gardiner said he was hurt when the party did not select him to run in the Assembly election last May.
“Frankly, the party dumped me last year, and I can’t pretend it didn’t hurt,” said Mr Gardiner.
“I threw my hat in ring last May, having topped the UUP poll in the previous election. But that’s politics and you must accept it.
“I was Father of the House (the oldest of the then-108 MLAs). I felt that under the new leadership, I had another term left in me. But after the way things turned out at Stormont, with an eight-month term, maybe it was all for the best.”
Outside family and home, politics was Samuel Gardiner’s life and he laments the fact it was “snatched away” from him.
He is married to Lily and they have two sons – Clive and Keith – and five grandchildren.
He said: “My wife Lily is retired as a talented and devoted nurse, but she is now in a residential home and I miss her terribly about the house.
“Sadly, I don’t have much contact with former UUP colleagues. When you pass the 70 mark – three score years and ten – life does get lonely, especially with so many former friends having passed on.”