Empey sets out his stall

The Irish Times’ Northern editor, Gerry Moriarty, was at Reg Empey’s official launch of his candidacy last night at the Holiday Inn in Belfast (see comments), and noted that he had quite a crowd assembled.. although the UUP’s only MP was noticeable by her absence. Empey is also reported as saying that, if he becomes leader, the UUP would be unlikely to return to a power-sharing executive until Autumn 2007[subs req].. at the earliest.The noticeable absentee..

The party’s only MP, Lady (Sylvia) Hermon, was not present, did not send her apologies and is not seen as a supporter.

Still a sizable crowd there though –

More than 100 of his supporters attended his campaign launch in the Holiday Inn in Belfast last night, among them five MLAs including Fred Cobain, Danny Kennedy and Tom Elliott. MEP Jim Nicholson, who was not present, has also pledged his support. With the number of MLAs there and apologies from other Assembly members, it was indicated that more than half of the UUP’s 24 Assembly members support his candidacy.

and a swipe at John Taylor.. and the first mention from the UUP of what the Belfast Telegraph described yesterday as a “testing period”

Sir Reg said if Lord Kilclooney was proposing leaders who were not members of the UUP, he should at least check if they were willing to stand. Of the peer’s “has-beens” remark, he said: “If this party is to succeed, the days of Excocet politics have to come to an end.” Were the IRA to stand down fully, end activity and decommission, he believed it would take the lifetime of the current Assembly, due to expire in autumn 2007, before the UUP would enter a power-sharing Executive with Sinn Féin.