Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt last night launched a fierce attack on Peter Robinson, branding him a “leader who has lost the trust of his people”.
In a speech which appears to signal that there will not be any sort of electoral deal between the two main unionist parties in May’s elections, Mr Nesbitt repeatedly rounded on the DUP as a party of “exploitation and self-interest”.
The tone of the speech stands in stark contrast to the position this time last year, when Mr Robinson and Mr Nesbitt were jointly chairing the now-defunct Unionist Forum and preparing to jointly fight the Mid Ulster by-election.
In a speech to the UUP’s East Antrim Association, Mr Nesbitt fired an opening salvo of the council and European election battle. Mr Nesbitt said: “Another leader who has lost the trust of his people [is]Peter Robinson.
“It was this month three years ago that he savaged Michael McGimpsey as Health Minister. February 2011, and the First Minister accuses Michael of ‘posturing’ when he warned the health service did not have enough funds. It was, said Peter Robinson, ‘obscene’.
“Three years later, Peter Robinson says if the Health Minister needs more money, more money shall be found.
“And was Michael McGimpsey right to warn the local NHS is underfunded?”
Mr Nesbitt said that Health Minister Edwin Poots now said he needed more money, adding: “How can you trust a leader who tells one health minister he is engaging in obscene posturing, but tells another offering the same warning that money is not an object?”
Mr Nesbitt said that while policies are important in politics, “the key value in politics is trust”.
And, recalling Mr Robinson’s warning three years ago that “future generations will not thank us” if nothing is done to end the “benign apartheid” in education, Mr Nesbitt said: “Never mind future generations; the current generation should hold his feet to the fire over this [schools] failure.”
A year ago, Mr Nesbitt appealed for an agreement with the DUP to support each other’s European election candidates by urging voters to transfer between them. But at that point, Mr Nesbitt said that he would only tell UUP supporters to transfer to Mrs Dodds “as long as they [the DUP] reciprocate and vote [Jim] Nicholson ‘2’ after their own candidate”.
The DUP has yet to confirm whether it will run a second European election candidate, while TUV leader Jim Allister has also not confirmed whether he will stand.