A long slow slide to unionist re-alignment…

Reg Empey in today’s Irish News (subs needed):

Challenging Ian Paisley on the Third Force and Ulster Resistance groups, he speaks of leading DUP figures “wearing paramilitary head dress”. “It is no secret. I believe Ian Paisley has a very large responsibility for that [but] I would have to say even our own party in those days was less condemnatory than it ought to have been,” he said. “I have spoken to senior loyalists, some who are currently in the leadership, and they say to me they actually joined in response to some of that stuff in the Ulster Hall.”

That will not go down well in some quarters of his own party.

The Unionist militarism of the early 70’s was most clearly expressed by the Vanguard Unionist Progressive Party, of which he and David Trimble became prominent members when it was established as in 1972. Some say that its very establishment as a separate party a year later (as opposed to an umbrella organisation) came about because there were moves afoot within the UUP to expell them.

Some, like Martin Smyth, stayed within the UUP and resigned from Vanguard. Empey, Trimble and its then figurehead, William Craig left the UUP and set up Vanguard as a separate political party.

Clearly the departure of Peter Bowles (someone who former chair of the Young Unionists, Pakman regards as “one its’ more able members”) for the Conservative Party is an indication that Empey’s move is further hollowing out the core of the party, rather than stopping the long term rot.

Internal party estimates over the loss of seats were not optimistic before the co-option of Ervine. They are unlikely to have improved since. Each passing ‘defeat’ or defection must weigh all the more heavily on their shrinking share of the electorate. It has had a cost for the PUP leader too, in the sense that a man who has been noted for his eloquent support of the peace process and sustainable reconciliation is only being asked about one thing: when is the UVF going to follow the IRA and decommission its weapons?

The Empey interview is available here in full, for those of us who have an Irish News subscription.

Meanwhile the Irish News carries another report of an attack (subs needed), thought to be by the UVF on Raymond McCord’s cousin Robert:

Robert McCord (52) was attacked at a flat in the Rathcoole estate in Newtownabbey, where Raymond McCord, whose son Raymond jnr was murdered by a UVF gang in 1997, used to live. It was reported that on Monday evening a UVF gang from Mount Vernon kicked Mr McCord’s door in and demanded to know if he knew where his cousin was living.

The UVF seems to be making it clear it does not regard any deal between Ervine and Empey as binding on it. If it does move before November, the UUP will struggle, after sustaining small but consistent damage to its political capital, to claim any ownership of a positive move by that organisation.

In the meantime, regardless of the accusations about events in the early to mid eighties, the DUP seem well positioned to manage that much talked about re-alignment of Unionism, this time almost entirely under the aegis of its own political banner.

  • Pete Baker

    David Ervine has been making comments, heard on TalkBack [news report], regarding Peter Bowles that are ill-advised in the circumstances.. and unlikely to be appreciated by Reg Empey.

    He said something along the lines of – Peter Bowles ‘should have jumped ship a long time ago rather than mid-Atlantic’. There was more.. I’ll see if I can hunt down further quotes.

  • Dictionary Dave also quoted Yorick (from the BBC website).

    I never thought a slow motion car crash could be so entertaining.

  • Crataegus

    What surprises me with the UUP is that more people haven’t walked already. I have always found if someone is acting the fool, best to get rid of them fast or let them get on with it by departing, avoids needless acrimony. Why stay, tradition, loyalty, social connections, friends?

    For me it still feels like the fading days of that party, next election will perhaps put it out of its misery.

  • Pete Baker

    Ah.. here we go.. thanks Watchman

    On Monday, Mr Ervine said that Mr Bowles should have made the move sooner.

    “I think he should have jumped ship long ago, rather than do it mid-Atlantic,” he said.

    “It seems to me there’s a great protestation – I think it’s a bit like Yorick, methinks you protest too much.”

  • Tochais Síoraí

    Fair play to him for his honesty anyway. No doubt the DUP will be busily examining their own consciences.

  • Pete Baker

    Of course, he didn’t know Yorick at all, Horatio..

    Right play, wrong character

  • Dec

    “It seems to me there’s a great protestation – I think it’s a bit like Yorick, methinks you protest too much.”

    Queen Gertrude, surely?

  • Harry

    Has it not struck any of you that this whole debacle has made the UUP more talked about and seemingly more relevant than at any time since their great electoral meltdown? Have you not noticed Reg’s clearly more ‘statesmanlike’ demeanour even since this deal, such as the performance he gave on ‘Let’s talk’ some time back where he seemed more assured and more deft than for a long time? Is it only me who has noticed a certain smug smirk grow on his face since he made this ‘move’, the only move he could have made on the board and a move that none of us were aware of until he made it?

    Seems to me Reg is in his element and has found his feet for the first time since taking over the job as leader. I watched him attempt to be presidential for a long while but he wasn’t quite pulling it off, it seemed a little strained and put on. Not any more and the reason is because he feels he has something more substantial in his hands now than the mere leadership of a dying party.

    Of course it may just be that he desperately tried any move he could, and given a choice between controversy and oblivion he chose controversy. In any case he seems happy enough about it now. Positively smirking it seems to me. Whether through accident, incompetence or design he has now created a realignment in unionism that may have greater repercussions in the future than we can now forsee.

  • Dec

    Ok, you beat me by a minute but at least I didn’t have to google it. Sniff.

  • Junior Apparatchik

    Ah, so Sir Reg is admitting ALL Unionists are up to their neck in paramilitarism?

    That’s interesting.

  • Pete Baker

    Let’s not quibble about a minute Dec, although I would have been quicker had I not been looking for an online link 😉

    The context of the quote is worth noting, given Ervine’s disdainful use of it… Queen Gertie is referring to a character who actually represents herself..

  • lib2016

    The British government and the security services so devoutly supported by the UUP were up to their necks in collusion, murder, torture etc. etc. for the last thirty years and we have all this sanctimonious fuss about acknowledging what is no more than historical truth.

    What on earth is going to happen within the next twelve months when the DUP has to bite the bullet on power-sharing?

    Are unionists really determined to prove that they are unsuited for the real world, fit only to exist in some sectarian museum against an imaginary backdrop of Kipling and the Empire?

  • darth rumsfeld

    whatever you’re smoking harry I implore you to stop now, for your sanity’s sake.

  • Briso

    MF or Pakman wrote (I’m not sure because the formatting is awry):
    >It has had a cost for the PUP leader too, in the
    >sense that a man who has been noted for his
    >eloquent support of the peace process and
    >sustainable reconciliation is only being asked
    >about one thing: when is the UVF going to follow
    >the IRA and decommission its weapons?

    About time too. If this is Reg’s doing, maybe it’s not all bad?

  • Harry

    Perhaps darth I have the advantage of seeing this from a distance you don’t?

  • Pete Baker

    While Reg is still attempting to bluff his way through this, aided and abetted by Ervine, Dermot Nesbitt maintains that nothing has changed for the UUP:

    “We still hold to the line that you cannot be participating in government unless you disarm and are totally free of any illegality,” he said.

    Unless you’re under the UUP Assembly Group umbrella, Dermot?

  • Gah, but this is the best crack for ages. But what I really do need to know is – what’s Reg really up to? I understand fully the tactic: he’s in a hole, and as everyone left in the UUP knows, when you’re in one of those, you keep on digging. So, where’s he trying to get to? Is he going to, Ali-style, admit tomorrow, ‘I’m so bad, I make skunks flinch?’ And then the day after that, ‘see them Kefflicks? I coulda moidered them’ and then finally he’ll build up to, at last, telling Nationalists the truth, that, yes, every Orange lodge drinks a secret toast to Damian from The Omen, before going on to [gulp] make jokes about Bobby straight-as-a-die Sands. Who can say, who can say?

    Meanwhile, if Davy Dictionary is anyone from Hamlet, he’s well known windbag Polonius for sure. I leave you with these (un)wise words of his, from, as you’ll all remember from your A Level [Oppressor’s alien tongue Lit], from Act I, scene 3:

    Yet here, Reg! aboard, aboard, for shame!
    The wind sits in the shoulder of your sail,
    And you are stay’d for. There; my blessing with thee!
    And these few precepts in thy memory
    See thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,
    Nor any unproportioned thought his act.
    Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.
    Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
    Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel;
    But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
    Of each new-hatch’d, unfledged comrade. Beware
    Of entrance to a quarrel, but being in,
    Bear’t that the opposed may beware of thee.
    Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;
    Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment.
    Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
    But not express’d in fancy; rich, not gaudy;
    For the apparel oft proclaims the man,
    And they in Portydown of the best rank and station
    Are of a most select and generous chief in that.
    Neither a borrower nor a lender be;
    For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
    And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
    This above all: to thine ownself be true,
    And it must follow, as the night the day,
    Thou canst not then be false to any man.
    Farewell: my blessing season this in thee!

    Yup, that’s almost as good as the advice Reg is actually getting from the Cunningham Hice numpties. Good luck, by the way, ‘boys’, with your various attempted online smearings of the bould Bowles. You’re a credit to your class.


    I have been critical of Reg in recent days, but I have to give him credit for his latest comments.
    Nationalists have long asked for Unionists to accept their share of responsibility, and it’s a fair request.
    It’ll do us no harm in the long run to have more honesty of this calibre.

    Now, If Gerry would just admit his past……

  • memorystick

    Karl Rove

    You have far too much time on your hands.

  • pid

    Maybe he has, but I’m glad he uses it to such entertaining effect.

    As to what Reg is up to…

    Well if the DUP don’t play ball in November (and mestillthinks they won’t) then we’re into Plan B.

    I don’t know if ye remember but the UVF made rather threatening noises about JA last month.

    So…. we may have a situation early next year of the 2 govts. playing increasing JA, the UVF tooling up, and the UUP back centre-stage.

    Kind of a pipe-bomb and ballot box strategy.

    Idle speculation.

  • BooBoo

    What I don’t understand about Empty’s so-called “honesty,” is how he managed to segue from how mainstream unionism used loyalist paramilitaries, to laying the blame mostly at the door of the DUP.

    When are we going to get some honesty about his own Vanguard activities; the monster rallies; the inspection of the quasi-miltary ranks; the promises to “liquidate the enemy”; the threat of an Independent Ulster etc etc? It was Vanguard which made loyalist paramilitarism respectable and gave it political cover. It was Vanguard which was responsible for bringing huge numbers into the loyalist ranks.

    The UUP has a long history of service. A very large percentage of its members were in the RUC, the Reserve, the B Specials, the UDR and the RIR. It is those people who have been alienated by the UUP/UVF link. But they won’t write to local papers, or ‘phone TalkBack, or complain to Cunningham House—they will just quietly drop out of membership and refuse to vote for the party.

    And the party won’t see it coming. Last year the UUP mistook indifference on the doorstep, and the fact that no-one was shouting at the candidates, as a sign that all was well electorally. This year they are mistaking silence and indifference from the grassroots as a sign that they are happy. Big, BIg, BIG, MISTAKE.

    Empty has no get out clause available. He has said he will decide if and when he has to “call time.” But since “calling time” will be an admission of total and utter failure on his part, he can never call it. As both Lady Hermon and Alex Kane have pointed `out, Empty (and, by extension, the UUP) is a hostage to fortune.

    While he may be correct in saying that something has to be done to assuage the loyalist communities, he is wrong in assuming that this is the way to do it. This is not a two-way, quid pro quo arrangement he has with the UVF; it is a one-sided pact in which the UVF has a baseball bat and the UUP has an “conditional time limit.” If the UVF is serious when it says that it will reconsider its ceasefire after it has a look at any new political deal, then it is the DUP who have most to gain. The UVF oks a deal and the DUP will simply claim the credit.

    Some people are fond of reminding us that John Hume took a risk. Indeed he did, and got devoured by Sinn Fein. They are equally fond of reminding us that the UUP took a risk. Again, that is correct; and ended up with a demoralised, electorally neutured political wreck which is on the verge of financial meltdown.

    The UUP has endured a month of relentlessly bad media. The News Letter has turned against it (the party can’t even get stooges to write letters of support!). The Belfast Telegraph couldn’t even be bothered running an editorial on what the party has done. The Irish News will have enormous fun reminding everyone that Empty has ‘fessed up to the link between unionism and loyalist paramilitarism. The party’s only MP has been isolated. The MLAs have mostly taken a vow of silence. The DUP has had the spotlight shifted from its own internal difficulties. The SDLP—the UUP’s supposed partner on the centre ground—has been left flabberghasted. Sinn Fein has a stick to beat the UUP with on grounds of rank hypocrisy.

    Could someone out there, anyone in fact, point to the positive aspects in all of this from the UUP’s perspective.


  • nmc

    They get an extra seat in the hypothetical executive.

  • If I have too much time on my hands now, think what I’m going to be like when the UUP does finally implode. A danger to society, an anti-social element – in fact, any second now I’m going to start dealing drugs in, oh, let’s say . . . South Belfast. Oh sugar, someone’s got there before me. But who, but who? And does the UUP get a cut?

  • lib2016


    The SDLP may have various opinions about the UUP but they gave up any idea of ‘partnership on the centre ground’ sometime around 2001 as has been well documented by Fionnuala O’Connor.

    Similarily no British political party will touch any of their representatives, past or present with a bargepole except for the extreme racist groups.

    Unionism is divided, demoralised and isolated. The first unlikely step to recovery would be for them to recognise that fact.

  • BooBoo

    nmc—I don’t know if that comment was intended to be tongue-in-cheek. But just in case it wasn’t (and I will refrain from making too much of the fact that such a seat would be dependent on the nod of the UVF), let me just say:


    1) A`deal won’t be done in November and all the MLAs will slip into well deserved oblivion. So all the pain for nothing.

    2) A`deal will be done, but both DUP and SF will demand an up-front election next Spring, the UUP lose 8-10 seats and will be lucky to get one seat in the Executive.



    Unionism is divided, demoralised and isolated.

    Is it?

    Isolated from whom exactly?

  • tiny

    the DUPes should’nt get to exicited about UUP defections to the Tories, it simply brings forward the day when Sinn Fein is the largest party in the Province

  • headmelter

    “The UUP has a long history of service. A very large percentage of its members were in the RUC, the Reserve, the B Specials, the UDR and the RIR.
    It is those people who have been alienated by the UUP/UVF link.”

    Forgive me, but I thought they were all connected.The B specials and UDR… lol.

  • Mick Fealty


    The suggestion I’ve made above is that we are witnessing a realignment within unionism effectively under the sole aegis of the DUP. I’m not sure how the decline of the UUP can be seen as equaling broader unionism being “divided, demoralised and isolated”.

    On the face of it, one party is simply being supplanted by a wider, more modern and well managed coalition of Unionist interests, in the corporate persona of the DUP. Though it is probably true that this will take out a large number of middle class voters who may simply not vote for anyone again, as Feeney has rightly argued the same holds for former SDLP voters.

    Judging from their body language and the number and quality of contacts they’ve made outside the usual box – think Ted Kennedy’s private office the day Denis Donaldson was killed for instance and that speech to the National Committee on American Foreign Policy – they don’t show the usual cut of a demoralised and isolated political project.

    This DUP is a very different creature to what came before it as the head of Unionism. That much has been obvious to anyone who cared to look closely enough at what it’s been saying for quite some time.

  • Harry

    I wouldn’t go overboard in characterising the DUP as a radically different departure for unionism except insofar as unionism is abandoning the pretence of statehood in favour of bare-teethed anatagonism. From a nationalist perspective it’s six of this and half a dozen of the other. Nationalists have no illusions about unionism, but it seems unionists have. What’s going on in unionism seems to outside eyes like some sort of class war.

  • darth rumsfeld

    “Perhaps darth I have the advantage of seeing this from a distance you don’t?”

    Aye- Mars ( or should the red Planet be renamed “Believe”?)