Mike Nesbitt: Party backs me

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ULSTER Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt has said that he has “the overwhelming support of the party”, and rejected criticism of his decision to support a DUP amendment that removed any reference to the Belfast Agreement.

Mr Nesbitt, who has faced criticism from both inside and outside his party during the flag dispute, said Basil McCrea was wrong to raise concerns about the UUP backing the DUP amendment because “it was clear that it was not going to pass”.

In a statement welcoming the fact that the UUP motion was passed after the DUP amendment was defeated – despite the amendment having UUP support – Mr Nesbitt said: “I also note that the concerns expressed in the media by Basil McCrea over the party moving away the Belfast Agreement were, therefore, unfounded.

“Indeed, it should have been clear to him that the DUP amendment was never going to pass, so there was no threat to our commitment to promoting the spirit of the Belfast Agreement.”

However, last night Mr McCrea said the fact the DUP motion was not going to pass was no reason to vote for it.

He said: “It would have been stronger had he [Mr Nesbitt] supported his own motion and rejected the DUP attempts to undermine it – it wasn’t necessary for him to do that.

“Secondly, the language and the attacks by the DUP on the agreement demanded a response from the UUP speakers – not least by the final UUP speaker who had 10 minutes to wind [the debate] – and the UUP should have committed to defending the Agreement.”

Mr Nesbitt also questioned whether Sinn Fein, by backing the motion which opposed violence, “now regret the IRA’s campaign of violence”.

He said: “I am disappointed that the entire House did not support our motion, indeed some unionists even voted against it. For those accusing me of sleepwalking into unionist unity; look at the vote. We voted ‘yes’, the DUP voted ‘no’.

“I remain committed to advancing the cause of the Union. Where that is best achieved by us working alone, in opposition to other unionist parties, that is what we will do, as we did today. When co-operation is called for, as it is in dealing with the street protests and their underlying issues, I shall co-operate.”