Empey has the character to turn party round

Over two years ago I asked a senior Republican who he’d like to see leading the UUP. “Reg Empey”, he replied without hesitation. Reg certainly made an impact as minister of Trade and Entreprise amongst republicans with his frequent visits and public championing of economic regeneration projects across Nationalist and Unionist areas. It’s of no surprise then that Mairtin O Muilleoir, veteran of that one time bear pit that is the Belfast City Council chamber, reckons Empey has the character and determination to turn things round for the UUP.

  • David Vance

    Sir Reg – the unionist that republicans prefer. Yip – it’s an election winning slogan. For the DUP.

  • Jacko

    Fair play to O’Muilleoir, that’s the closest I’ve ever seen to a republican praising a unionist without a host of caveats and smart-ass asides.

  • Gonzo

    Gail Walker would beg to differ:

    electing him, if not quite the biggest mistake in UUP history, will probably be its last one.

  • martin


    Nah they’ll make mistakes about buying the right biscuits when they exist only as an old commrads association in the near future

  • fair_deal

    While the chances of failure remain higher than the chances of success, I don’t think Reg can be totally discounted.

    He has been something of a political chameleon in his time so another transfromation is possible.

    In his favour of the pro-agreement bunch he was the first to shift away from Trimble and from the excerpts I have seen of the memo (sorry Jeffrey didn’t buy the book)he wrote of the UUP’s problems most could buy into it and he had the sense to realise that for all the problems the splits in the party were causing that the loss of representatives and members of the anti-agreement section would bring significant electoral harm. From what dealings I have on a personal level anything I asked him to do he acted on it and acted promptly.

    Effectively, his first statement being about the resolution of the parades I found an interesting if not deft political move. This was a flaw in the December deal, opens opportunites to reconnect to the lost Orange vote and has the potential to create some discomfort for the DUP.

    The one huge mark against him is the streak of defeatism which leads to him being a poor negotiator.

  • Jacko

    It should be understood that anything Gail Walker, and for that matter Suzanne Breene, have to say about the UUP comes from them viewing the situation through a decidely DUP prism.


    I agree with you on Reg’s chances probably being better than commentators have acknowledged. Interested to know where you get the “poor negotiator” charge from.

  • fair_deal

    1. Like most Unionists he does not identify areas that unionists want change in so ends up in a defensive negotiating stance (nothing personal their just a general point that Unionists often overlook – it is a difference in approach that Gregory Campbell always highlights).
    2. There are three basic schools of thought in Unionism on deals. Those who won’t agree to any deal (a much less significant grouping than it once was), those who are prepared to deal but won’t settle for any deal and those who will settle for any deal in return for some power. From the conversations I have had with Reg he is in the ‘settle for any deal’ school.
    3. He played a full role in the UUP negotiating team of the Good Friday Agreement – not a great days work.
    4. He played a full role in the UUP negotiating team during the implementation phase. This was a crucial stage as the GFA is an instrumental peace deal (agree on some issues and try and sort the rest out as we go along). This was essentially the defining stage of what key sections actually meant asides from the verbiage. In this stage the agreement came closer to the nationalist interpretation of the agreement than the unionist interpretation (with the notable exception of the cross-border bodies).
    5. I sat in a YU meeting a few weeks before the Agreement when Reg Empey said the UUP would not agree to a deal that involved prisoner releases. I personally thought this was ridiculous at the time but a clear example of how there was no preparation of the Unionist grassroots for a deal.
    6. The one pro-agreement argument that had the most weight with me during the Agreement debate was Unionism needed direct access to power. The person who finally dismayed me of it was in fact Reg Empey. When I asked him what we wanted this power to do? He gave me the answer of a technocrat, that the thirst for power lacked a clear purpose or vision of what it wanted to do or how it expected to deliver for its voters. Something I believe became clear across the various UUP ministries.
    7. He at best coalesced at worst supported the repeated return to government.
    8. He at best coalesced at worst supported Trimble’s self-restricting negotiation agenda. After each breakdown Trimble asked for little more than guns while SF/IRA went in with a list the length of their arm. Each time it ended up Unionism got a few guns (or the promise to talk about it on one occassion) while SF got a series of measures showing delivery to the nationalist community.
    9. Anything I have read or heard indicates to me the approach to the various negotiations was anything but professional e.g. agreeing strategy in the car park before meetings with ministers. Reg coalesced if not supported this unprofessional approach.
    10. I wish i could think of a tenth to round the list off nicely

  • fair_deal


    Gail Walker publicly called Sylvia Hermon to stand so I don’t think your claim of a DUP prism is fair.

    She may have become critical of the agreement but she began from a position of support so her transition is little different from a lot of the Unionist community.

  • La Dolorosa

    It’s a bit of a shame it’;s Reg Empey (a shame for UUP members) – you would think they would learn their lesson by now.

    I think someone whom they should seriously consider for the future is Tyrone Howe. I saw him on a BBC NI panel show a few weeks ago and he was most impressive and also someone who lives in the 21st century unlike some other unionist parties.

    As well as havinga coherent and articulate view of NI politics he also has a firm grasp of what’s going elsewhere in the world.

  • Carrington

    The stae of Unionism can be summed up very easily by looking at the strength of either party’s front line team.

    DUP = Paisley, Robinson, Dodds, Campbell, Allister, Donaldson, Wilson.

    UUP = Empey, Elliot, Kennedy, Bowles (WTF?) and Hermon.

    Come on guys, there’s no comparison.

  • Carrington

    “A professional and mature politician, he took his responsibilities seriously even when, for example, on the night of the IRA’s 1996 demolition of Manchester’s retail heart, he had to host a Belfast Castle reception and play the role of host by introducing the visiting US businesspeople to Sinn Féin representatives.”

    In other words, a Quisling.

  • Waitnsee

    I think we’re all missing the real point here, which is that Gail Walker has actually written a good article.

    I’m away for a lie down.

  • Jacko


    On point 1: Seems they, Reg included, was positive enough to major on the Consent Principle, Articles 2 and 3, cross-border bodies accountable to the assembly atc.
    2: If anything, having had his fingers badly burned at the time he, Frank Millar, Peter Robinson etc. negotiated the last deal with nationalism, reg is actually too cautious.
    3: Repitition of other points.
    4: Agree with you entirely on this point, for me this was the vital time and it is when unionists lost the plot or their nerve, or both.
    The rest of your points are anecdotal or lead directly from point 4.

    I was aware of Gail’s call for Sylvia Hermon, a sisterhood thing.

  • Stalfords biggest fan

    UUP = Empey, Elliot, Kennedy, Bowles (WTF?) and Hermon.

    I think someone is upset he isn’t in the first set of names!

  • Carrington

    Everyone nows that Stalford’s biggest fan is his wee wife!

    Does your husband know you waste time on here?

  • fair_deal


    1. The consent thing never floated my boat. It had been conceded before negotiations began also as it was the position in law anyway its inclusion was a given not a negotiating strategy.
    2. Neither did Articles 2 & 3, changes had been signposted in the Framework documents so again it had been basically conceded beforehand. As Ken Maginnis once commented to me “The reason we need articles two and three are not for legal reasons but political. It is so we can sell cross-border bodies” (I actually find the new wording somewhat more offensive but thats a personal things.)
    3. The UUP focus in negotiations was too much high politics. Sinn Fein’s focus on equality and human rights agendas was more practical.

    In Sunningdale the Unionist core mistake was the all-Ireland stuff. Trimble did do well in this however this time a hash was made of the internal arrangements, e.g. structures, paramilitarism and policing.

  • GavBelfast

    Let’s hope hurling names like “Quisling” around doesn’t come back to haunt the hurlers.

    I mean, a deal’s bound to involve the DUP, and any deal involves compromise, and compromisers, and so on ….

  • Stalfords biggest fan

    Does your husband know you waste time on here?

    Chris you big tease, I know its you!

  • JL Pagano

    As much as many love to demonize Unionists and lump them all in with the views of Rev Paisley, I want to wish Reg Empey all the best in persuading the apathetic Unionists, who rather than vote for the DUP stayed at home, to come out and restore politics in the North to the middle ground where it belongs.

  • Carrington


    You are way out!

  • Stalfords biggest fan

    cordiner, carrington, stalford!

    thinking you’re clever doesnt make it so young man!