Ex-TV anchor to stand for Iris Robinson seat

A former TV anchor tonight insisted he can overturn a landslide majority and win the Westminster seat vacated by disgraced Northern Ireland MP Iris Robinson.

Mike Nesbitt said a career quizzing politicians on why they were not doing things differently had spurred him to run in the Strangford constituency in the forthcoming general election.

The high-profile candidate, who is best known for hosting Ulster Television’s evening news alongside his wife Lynda Bryans, is standing on the Ulster Unionist/Conservative Party ticket as he bids to take the seat from the Democratic Unionists.

“I think this has been coming for years and even decades,” the 52-year-old said of his move into the political arena.

“You can’t spend that long interviewing politicians suggesting there’s a better way to do things without finally giving it a go yourself.”

The father of two, who also worked for BBC Northern Ireland, resigned from his current £65,000 a year post as one of the North's four Victims’ Commissioners this morning.

Having left UTV in 2006, two years later the Cambridge graduate was appointed to the newly created body set up to steer and deliver Government policy on support for those bereaved and injured in the Troubles.

In his latest incarnation, he will be attempting to overturn a 13,000-plus majority secured by the Democratic Unionists in 2005 when Mrs Robinson retained the seat she first won in 2001.

The 60-year-old wife of DUP First Minister Peter Robinson resigned as an MP last month and left the party after revelations about her affair with a 19-year-old toyboy.

She is currently the subject of a police investigation over claims that she obtained £50,000 from two developer friends to help her lover set up in business, but failed to declare it.

Her husband temporarily stepped down from his First Minister role when the scandal broke in January in a bid to clear his name of claims that he did not alert the appropriate authorities when he became aware of his wife’s financial dealings.

He returned to the post just before the signing of the landmark agreement with Sinn Fein over policing and parades earlier this month after saying a senior QC had found he had no case to answer.

Since then he has faced calls to publish the findings of the probe carried out by Paul Maguire.

But Mr Nesbitt said the Iris Robinson scandal had not prompted his decision, insisting he was considering the move throughout last year.

“I am confident enough to think that I can win it,” he added.

“Yes, it’s a big majority to overturn but it’s a traditional Ulster Unionist seat and I think it will be again before the year’s out.

“If I win the seat I’ll be taking a £1,000 drop in salary and if I lose I’ll be taking a £65,000 drop to absolutely nothing so I’m certainly not doing this for the money.”

Describing himself as a lifelong Ulster Unionist, Mr Nesbitt did however admit his affiliation with the Tories is not so strong.

“I don’t think I am the most natural Tory in the world but then again it’s not as if Labour and the Tories are at the polar opposites they were twenty years ago,” he said.

His selection as the two parties’ Strangford candidate will not be confirmed until it is rubber stamped by the joint Ulster Unionist/Conservative candidacy committee and the UUP party executive in the coming days. Those exercises are seen as formalities, however.

And the DUP have already given the ex-broadcaster a tasty welcome into the electoral fray, accusing him of being a parachuted candidate with no real experience of issues affecting Strangford voters.

The party’s likely candidate and current Assembly member for the area Jim Shannon said he was sure the party could see off the challenge.

“Yes, Mike Nesbitt has a profile on TV but does he have a profile when it comes to fixing roads?” he said.

“Does he have a profile when it comes to sorting out housing issues, to looking after planning matters, health, education – all those matters? No, I don’t think he has but the DUP have someone who has.”

Mr Nesbitt rejected claims of being a blow-in, highlighting his Strangford roots.

“I’m from the constituency and I bought a house in the constituency which I have lived in for the last 16 years,” he said.

The one-time journalist lives with his wife in a renovated house on the outskirts of east Belfast. The couple enjoy a mutual love of the outdoors and keep chickens in their garden.

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