Empey, as UUP leader, to wait and see

The Observer’s Ireland editor, Henry McDonald, was able to grab a few minutes with newly elected leader of the UUP Reg Empey on Friday night… and it would appear that the UUP will not make any definitive judgment on the IRA’s expected statement this summer until March 2006.Reg Empey doesn’t seem to be in any rush to declare a return to any restored executive..

‘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. So we will only be interested in what the IRA does and not what it says.’

Sir Reg said the body established to monitor the IRA and loyalist paramilitary ceasefires, the International Monitoring Commission, will be in a position by March 2006 to report on almost eight months of terrorist activity, or lack of it.

Neither was he optimistic of the prospects of a complete end to paramilitary and criminal activity –

‘I suspect they[PIRA] will do as they have done in Dublin and privatise their criminality, allowing ordinary criminals to carry out robberies and so on and then tax them,’ Sir Reg said.

There is also a longer article in the print edition of The Observer I have in front of me.. but for some reason it doesn’t seem to be online.

But in it Reg takes a couple of extra swings at the DUP, and Ian Paisley in particular –

“He said he would smash Sinn Féin wielding a sledgehammer in the Eighties and he hasn’t. He has never in his entire career successfully negotiated anything.

“The only thing he and the DUP can achieve is a bantustan society where there is separate development between the two communities, one which is ruled by Sinn Féin, the other controlled by the DUP”

Of course, Empey was likely to open his leadership term with a bullish statement of intent..

By contrast, Alan McFarland speaking after the result of the leadership contest was known is quoted in this report

After the contest, Alan McFarland said the UUP, “now needed to rally round its new leader and move forward”.

“We cannot out-DUP the DUP, we should not be trying, but there needs to be clear water between ourselves and the DUP to give the electorate a choice as to whether they vote Ulster Unionist or the DUP.

“Our first problem is, we have to try to produce a party, as soon as we can, that is electable, that actually looks as if it is together, organised, speaking with one voice with clear policies,” he said.

Since then Reg Empey, speaking on the Politics Show on BBC1 today, has said they have met and discussed the situation – seemingly everything’s sorted between the two of them and McFarland understands the position [a slight paraphrasing may be inferred].

I’d suggest that there’s more discussions ahead between these two and Empey could do worse than to keep Alan McFarland as close as possible to his leadership.. no confirmation of who will be Deputy Leader yet?.. just a thought..

Update the BBC’s Mark Devenport does the profiling here