Northern Ireland news

Doug Beattie admits that Nolan interview may have been catalyst for Steve Aiken's resignation

Outgoing UUP leader Steve Aiken (left) with Doug Beattie, seen by many within the party as his likely successor. Picture by Liam McBurney.

Doug Beattie has admitted that a recent interview that former Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken gave to The Nolan Show was perhaps "a catalyst" for the decision for him to stand down.

The Upper Bann MLA is the only declared candidate so far to replace Mr Aiken, who announced his intention to resign on Saturday.

During an interview with the BBC this morning, he said that it was Mr Aiken's choice to step down. He said he had sat face-to-face with Mr Aiken and expressed concerns about the direction in which the Ulster Unionist Party was going and performances on the media but at no stage had he asked him to resign. 

He said: " He [Mr Aiken] made the the end of the day, he said, you know what? I don't think I am getting this right. I think the problem is possibly with me. I am going to step down." 

Last month, Arlene Foster was ousted by party colleagues as leader of the DUP and first minister after a letter of no confidence was circulated. 

Mrs Foster said politics was a "very brutal game" before explaining that none of those who initiated her downfall had contacedt her.

Mr Beattie said the resignation of Mr Aiken had been in stark contrast to what had happened within the ranks of the DUP.

"There were no letters floating around in the back seats where people signed it, that said we no longer support you. We sat down with Steve at various different occassions and expressed concerns about how we had not made gains....We talked about performaces on the media...

"The interview with you [Stephen Nolan] may have been a catalyst with other things that were happeneing." 

Mr Beattie was referring to an interview that Mr AIken gave following his call for PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne to resign. 

A decision by prosecutors not to take action against 24 Sinn Féin politicians who attended the funeral of Republican Bobby Storey for alleged Covid-19 restriction breaches saw the leaders of the DUP, TUV and PUP call for the chief constable’s resignation.

Mr Aiken followed suit, but only 48 hours later.

He then struggled to articulate why he was calling for Mr Byrne’s head in a radio interview on the BBC’s The Nolan Show in exchanges dubbed as a “car crash” by many listeners.

In what some characterised as a rush to the right, detractors felt Mr Aiken should have instead concentrated on regaining a foothold in Northern Ireland’s centre ground – territory it has lost to a surging Alliance Party in recent years.

On Brexit too, some in the UUP believe Mr Aiken failed to capitalise on the difficulties of the DUP over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The imposition of an Irish Sea border, and a sense among many within the broader unionist family that the DUP is partly to blame for it, should have offered the UUP a chance to put clear blue water between itself and its under-pressure rival.

Many within the party believe Mr Aiken has simply not taken that opportunity and, with a crucial Assembly election only 12 months away, they felt change was needed quickly.

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