Empey leads UUP to sideline
Ulster Unionist veteran Reg Empey is David Trimble's successor
as the new party leader following a surprisingly close vote by
the party's ruling council.
The senior party negotiator was elected in the second count with
321 votes, beating former British Army major Alan McFarland
'grassroots champion' by 34 votes.
Empey had the backing of more than half the party's members in
the now defunct Belfast Assembly, as well as its MEP, Jim
After the first round of voting, the margin between the two men
was just 29 votes. David McNarry, who was the first man to throw
his hat in the ring for the leadership contest, was eliminated
after the first count.
'Sir Reg' succeeds David Trimble who resigned after the party
lost all but one of its MPs in the recent British general
Empey said the UUP was guilty of "not listening" to its
supporters and vowed to change that if he became leader.
Empey's performance was reportedly nervy during the meeting as
he tried to pitch himself as a leader, but a surprise
endorsement by hardliner David Burnside ensured his expected
Empey was once seen as a potential peace-maker in the North's
increasingly polarised society. However, he and his colleagues
have taken a harder line as their party attempts to regain
unionist support lost to Ian Paisley's openly sectarian DUP.
In his first political remarks following his victory, Mr Empey
said that he had promised David Burnside that he would not join
Sin Fein in government before 2007.
"I made it clear in my literature that this party will not
participate in an executive which includes Sinn Fein in the
lifetime of this Assembly," the UUP leader declared. The call
sets up the UUP for opposition against any future power-sharing
administration in Belfast involving Sinn Fein and the DUP.
Mr Empey later said his party would not make a definitive
judgment on any move by the Provisional IRA to stand down for at
least nine months, blaming allegations of IRA activity which
have preceded the collapse of peace deals.
"We went into government with republicans on three occasions
just to give them time to change their ways and each time they
soiled the nest," he said.
Empey said he was under "absolutely no illusions" about the
difficulties that lay ahead.
"It's a mammoth task but we have faced great adversity before
and we will meet the challenge," he added.