Northern Ireland news

Senior Ulster Unionists voice support for Steve Aiken in wake of 'car crash' radio interview

Steve Aiken struggled to explain his party's decision to withdraw support for the chief constable. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA Wire

TWO SENIOR members of the Ulster Unionists' assembly team have voiced support for party leader Steve Aiken in the aftermath of the radio interview his deputy dubbed a "car crash".

Former leader Mike Nesbitt and deputy leader Doug Beattie have both given the embattled South Antrim MLA their backing and reiterated support for his call for Chief Constable Simon Byrne to resign.

In last Friday's interview on the Nolan Show, Mr Aiken struggled to explain the rationale for his party's decision the previous day to follow other unionist parties in withdrawing support for the chief constable.

The Ulster Unionist leader, who succeeded Robin Swann in November 2019, was unable to specify what Mr Byrne had done wrong.

When pressed on whether the PSNI's prior engagement with organisers of the Bobby Storey funeral involved warnings that Covid-19 regulations needed to be observed, he replied: "I don't know".

The 45-minute interview saw Mr Aiken widely ridiculed and rebuked on social media.

But his predecessor as UUP leader and the MLA most likely to succeed him have both given the former submarine commander their support.

Mr Nesbitt told The Irish News: "I support the party leader and party policy – and the policy is that the chief constable resigns."

The former broadcaster said he sympathised with his party leader and pointed to "difficult" interviews he himself had in the past.

Mr Beattie said he "fully" supported Mr Aiken.

"He is my leader and he has my confidence and support," the Upper Bann MLA said.

"Every single one of us has had a car crash interview at some stage or other."

Mr Beattie said Mr Aiken would readily concede that the interview had not cast him in a positive light.

"It takes a real leader to identify their own failings – a bad interview does not show the man or his passion and the work he is doing for society and the communities he represents."

He said the UUP had withdrawn support for the chief constable after a series of "bad gaffes", including "telling people he'll take their kids off them", being photographed with heavily armed officers in Crossmaglen and his involvement last month in a Zoom meeting with Community Restorative Justice Ireland representative Harry Maguire, who was convicted for his role in killing of British Army corporals Derek Wood and David Howes.

"On measure, taking all these things into account, we find it difficult to say the chief constable has our support," Mr Beattie said.

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