UUP's Mike Nesbitt says unionists 'must strive for post-sectarian society'

Mike Nesbitt announcing his resignation as Ulster Unionist leader. Picture by Hugh Russell

MIKE Nesbitt has said "any true unionist must strive to create a post-sectarian society" in his final speech as Ulster Unionist Party leader.

Mr Nesbitt resigned after the party's poor election performance, dropping to 10 seats in the new assembly.

Speaking to the UUP executive at the Royal Hotel in Cookstown on Saturday, Mr Nesbitt said "unionism needs to engage more" and "that includes engaging with Irish republicanism".

Criticising the DUP, he said his vision for Northern Ireland is one of "partnership, not domination".

"My vision remains of a partnership, a partnership of the willing. That is not what I hear from the DUP, which is unionism whose language is intent on domination," he said.

"They talk of 'rogue' and 'renegade' ministers. They can talk of the 'crocodile' that needs starved. All that language achieves is further division, polarisation and the energising of voters who were previously content to put their constitutional aspirations to one side."

The Strangford MLA added: "Northern Ireland's future within the United Kingdom will be best secured by maximising the number of people who are content and happy with their lot, including Catholics and aspiring nationalists.

"When people are too busy enjoying life, the more secure the union will be."

Concluding his speech, he said: "Any true unionist must strive to create a post-sectarian society – I believe it will happen, some day, and in doing so, we will secure the union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland."

The UUP has been reduced to the fourth largest party at Stormont, having been overtaken by the SDLP which won 12 seats.

Mr Nesbitt, who caused a political stir when he pledged to give his second preference vote to the SDLP, accepted responsibility for the election result and said he would give "100 per cent support" to the party's next leader.

The UUP is due to elect a successor at its annual general meeting next month.

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