The three contenders

Empey, McFarland, McNarry. There is still some doubt over the intentions of Lord Maginnis, however he will probably pull out by the end of the week when nominations close.Empey’s press conference was well attended, and he had an interesting cross section of the Party in support. Definite supporters seemed to include Jim Nicholson, Danny Kennedy, Fred Cobain and Tom Elliot. He also had the support of a number of new Councillors such as Mark Cosgrove as well as the established faces of Bertie Kerr, Jim Rodgers and David Browne.

Alan McFarland’s launch was less pronounced in terms of supporters, however he stressed that this was by design in his speech:

And I stress that I am offering myself. There is not a sea of faces behind me; not because I don’t have support at Westminster, Stormont, in Councils or at our grassroots, but because I want delegates to vote for me personally rather than because particular people may be endorsing me.

Noticeable in the room however were Lady Hermon, Esmond Birnie and Leslie Cree.

David McNarry has decided not to do a “presidential style” press conference.

In terms of priorities, there seems to be very little difference between the candidates

Empey:

Those days of high-handedness are over. On my watch, full weight will be given to the views of our supporters. The antenna is switched on and in perfect working order. Your views count, and they will not be ignored or filed under ‘forgotten’.

McFarland:

The priority for the Party is to regroup, rebuild, reconnect and re-engage. It is an internal priority. We have to change and we have to be seen to change. Our grassroots, members and voters alike, who have stayed with us through our very darkest days need to have confidence in this Party again.

McNarry:

I am running for the Party leadership because I believe that I can inject an impact, which will restore the Ulster Unionists to our rightful position as No 1 in Northern Ireland. To succeed is not a daunting thought but the turnaround can be made more efficiently with our younger members being encouraged to play a pivotal role in making this Party successful.

The candidates all have the same core message to delegates; internal reform for external gain. Empey talks of “radically re-organising the Party”, while McFarland states “we have to change and we have to be seen to change”. It is perhaps this outside perception of change that will be the mark of success of whoever emerges the victor.

I also want to point out that this story is actually incorrect. The relationship between the UUC and the Orange Institution was initially between the UUC and Grand Lodge of Ireland, this however has not been the case since c1925 when it became a relationship between the UUC and the County Grand Lodges (initially including Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal, more recently limited to the 8 County Grand Lodges within Northern Ireland). One may think that the superior governing body of Grand Lodge could compel the Counties, however this is not the case and therefore it was not within the competence of Grand Lodge to break the link with the Party. This means that there will be a small number of Orange Delegates at the leadership contest on the 24th, however their numbers will be negligible. (City of Londonderry have not sent delegates for some time, Counties Antrim, Armagh, Londonderry and City of Belfast will probably not send delegates leaving Tyrone, and possibly Fermanagh and Down). One would imagine that the rules will be changed at the UUC AGM next March to remove the Orange from the Party completely.

The elections of 2005 were bad ones for the Ulster Unionist Party. As far as I can see there are those with a chance of winning the leadership, and those without. I have my own opinions on who those people are, and I have my own opinions on who the best leader to turn fortunes around would be. All I will say however (perhaps a little out of context) is that Reg Empey has it right in this sentence:

When the votes are counted at the end, the Ulster Unionist Party will be the victor.