Mike Nesbitt has brushed aside the emergence of stinging criticism of him by the SDLP man to whom the UUP leader says he will give his second preference vote.
Séamas de Faoite has repeatedly savaged the UUP leader on Twitter over recent months.
Yesterday the Irish News highlighted how he had said that Mr Nesbitt is a leader who “sees opposition as a game”, someone who is “incapable of action” and who has an “evil plans book”.
When the News Letter put those comments to Mr Nesbitt yesterday at the UUP manifesto launch, he joked: “He’s been talking to my wife, hasn’t he?”
He then added: “What I’m trying to achieve is a stretch for some people. It’s not going to be easy, and if it was we would have done it by now. It’s 19 years since we made that committment to a fresh start...those are the values that I believe in and it doesn’t surprise me that people are poking fun and putting question marks against my motivation and whatever.”
He added: “I’m not deflected; I’m determined. Northern Ireland deserves better.”
Speaking to The Irish News, Mr de Faoite declined to say that he will reciprocate Mr Nesbitt’s gesture by transferring to the UUP before others.
Yesterday’s Ulster Unionist manifesto sets out a “five-point plan to clean up Stormont”.
The party proposes:
1) Ministers and special advisers be made more accountable by giving the Assembly Standards Commissioner the power to investigate allegations that ministers have broken the ministerial code – at present, there is no one who can investigate such claims. It would also make Spads subject to the Civil Service disciplinary process.
2) The Assembly speaker be elected by secret ballot of all MLAs, removing the ability of the big two parties to effectively decide behind closed doors who to install in the legislature’s top position.
3) Change the law so that Assembly committees are formally required to “scrutinise” as well as “advise and assist” ministers.
4) End “abuses” of the petition of concern Assembly veto mechanism by requiring more than one party to support a petition in order for it to be valid.
5) End the secrecy around political donations to Northern Ireland’s political parties by asking the secretary of state to use his powers to do so.