Empey’s strategy in tatters?

One of the chief architects of the (now defunct) May 15th deal between the UUP and David Ervine rang me that morning to ask what I thought of it. I told him I thought the party had given too much away, too cheaply. David Ervine has never hidden the fact that he believes in dispersal rather than disbandment of paramilitaries, so the benefits for the UUP with an ally with a particularly unpredictable hinterland, were a risky bet from the start. It would seem, as Peter Robinson suggests, to leave the UUP’s parliamentary strategy in tatters.

  • inuit_goddess

    I wouldn’t agree entirely Mick – of course the Stormont strategy of taking a ministry from SF has been holed, but they are clearly determined to press on with the big picture stuff of engagement with loyalism:

    “The Speaker may have ruled against us in the Assembly, but I repeat that we will not be diverted from trying to work closely with loyalists to secure this much needed transformation which will be of benefit not only to loyalist areas but to Northern Ireland as a whole.” (Reg Empey on their website)

    Surely this long-term, and ongoing component of the strategy is infinitely more important than the short-term acquisition of an extra ministry?

    We’ve yet to see that strategy play out but Reg has publicly indicated that he is in an ongoing series of meetings with the UVF leadership with a view to securing a complete transition from them.

    Reg should be given some time and space with this process of engagement, instead of childish lectures from other parties who should know better – not least the SDLP who did exactly this with Adams and SF!

    We all stand to gain in the end from a loyalist transition to democratic means and from engaging loyalist communities in the political process.

  • inuit_goddess

    Tho’ there’s many on both sides who wouldn’t want a loyalist about the place mind… 😉

  • inuit_goddess

    Meaning there’s many people out there, particularly within Unionism, who just don’t want loyalists in the political sphere, and whose prejudices are playing out when they comment on the issue.

  • PeterBrown


    No-one in the UUP except perhaps Empey, Copeland and McNarry are seriously engaging with loyalists which is why that justification for the pact was a footnote after the initial SF ministry reason went down like a lead balloon. Outside East Belfast and the Loyalist Commission what else is happening?

  • IJP

    What is this “Loyalist strategy” nonsense?

    They did this for the extra ministry. The “Loyalist strategy” only appeared when the flak started. If it were serious, why have 12 years of links to paramilitary reps on Belfast City Council delivered precisely nothing?

    Throw in some dodgy accounting and “interesting” election leaflets… “Decent people… leave the Ulster Unionists.”

  • Alex. Kane

    Morning All,

    The truth of the matter is that the UUP has been engaging with the various loyalist paramilitary groups for years.

    1) David Trimble sent people to talk to the UVF and UDA in 1997 to persuade them to move first on decommissioning, thereby wrongfooting the IRA and robbing them of any real excuse for stalling on the issue themselves.

    2) Trimble was also one of the prime movers behind the Loyalist Commission.

    3) A number of Belfast based UUP MLAs and councillors have maintained backdoor channels of communications with the UVF and UDA for years.

    4) Reg opened a front door in October 2005 and brought Ervine through it in May 2006.

    But the bottom line is that neither the UVF nor UDA has responded as we would have hoped. No decommissioning. No stepping back from criminality. No halt to recruitment and training etc etc. And it is now 12 years since the CLMC announced a loyalist ceasefire.

    And that has been the problem with the whole Ervine business. The UUP has been trying to persuade both the UDA and UVF for years and got sod all. That doesn’t mean that we should give up trying (and I have supported the other efforts), but nor does it mean that we should have entered a pact with the PUP/UVF—a pact which has done the UUP a lot of damage.

    That aside, there was no need to enter the pact in the first place. The rules of engagement re triggering d’Hondt were changed 5 clear days before May 15—as was pointed out to the leadership by myself and Lady Hermon. Anyway, there was absolutely no way it was going to be triggered on May 16th; so, again, the UUP didn’t need to do it.

    Ervine wasn’t first choice—as Sir Reg admitted to Mark Devenport— (I now know the full chronology leading up to May 15). He was taken on board because others refused. That fact alone makes a mockery of the claim that the UUP was doing it as part of a “reaching out” to Loyalism strategy.

    There should have been something up front in terms of a solid UVF statement. Instead, the UUP got nothing. Indeed, the UVF has had a number of opportunities since May 15 to help Sir Reg and silence his internal critics. They did nothing—indicating either that they weren’t ready or weren’t prepared to help. Two good reasons for not creating the pact.

    The Speaker’s Ruling does nothing to stop the UUP’s ongoing efforts to push the UVF and UDA along the road to non-terrorism. And those efforts should continue. But in creating a pact which established a direct link between the UUP and the UVF Sir Reg (albeit with the best motives) weakened the UUP.

    At a slight tangent: had the Speaker ruled in favour of the pact it would have caused huge constitutional problems for the UUP. The UUPAG was not—and could not be—recognised under the existing UUP constitution. A meeting of the UUC would have had to be called (and the signatures were already in place) and I suspect it could have been a fairly lively experience.

    Best wishes,


  • Hidden Gem

    “…the benefits for the UUP with an ally with a particularly unpredictable hinterland, were a risky bet from the start…”

    Exactly. I don’t think anybody would argue with this, least of all Reg and David, but surely this is what we want from our politicians? People who are prepared to take risks and take chances. So it didn’t work for Reg but at least he was doing something and not just playing it safe. I, like most, find it unpalatable to have to deal with the paramilitaries but they are here and must be dealt with if society is going to move forward out of conflict. Paramilitries don’t simply “just go away”. It would be nice if we could just ignore them but that just continues the vicious circle. For all his critics and high horse finger pointers, who else, other than Reg, is showing the loyalist paramilitary groups an alternative? Certainly not the Duppers!

  • Crataegus

    Intuit Goddess

    Meaning there’s many people out there, particularly within Unionism, who just don’t want loyalists in the political sphere,

    Guy walks up to business colleague looking a substantial donation and gets told to get stuffed. Two weeks later someone puts two bullets in him. You can perhaps see why some not only don’t want to see loyalists in the political sphere but walking this earth. And this sentiment is not confined to Unionists.

    Why on earth do we persist in calling these people Loyalists or dissident elements. Let’s just group the whole miserable lot together. They are gangsters, racketeers, thugs and hoodlums. They are criminals and the sooner politicians stop making excuses for them and the Police pursue them with all vigour the better for everyone.

    As for working class politics and representation for god sake join the Labour Party or Socialists or Greens or whatever you want. Parties without guns! Difficult concept I know.


    Quite right


    Ever tried to house train a feral cat? There comes a time when even the most stubborn realise the place for the beast is outside the house.

  • inuit_goddess

    IJP – Reg has been stressing engagement with loyalism pretty much since he became leader – particularly his conference speech last November. The Ervine pact didn’t just come from nowhere, as Alex has pointed out. It was always part of a much wider picture, which much of the media commentary has missed out.

    Now that the assembly pact part of the thing has been ruled out by the speaker, perhaps people will focus more on this wider picture of loyalist transition.

    Grabbing a seat from the Shinners would have been nice, but there’s a much greater prize at stake in terms of bringing loyalist communities into the political process. To see the benefits of this, you just need to look at how republican communities have grown and changed in recent years – at the cultural vibrancy of Feile an Phobail in West Belfast for instance.

    Loyalist communities deserve the same – a similar opportunity to transition to a normal society.

  • Harry

    There is no relationship between republican paramilitarism and loyalist paramilitarism – and no amount of mimicing the provos as if there is (and Ulster-scots mimicing Gaelic & equality legislation for unionists mimicing nationalist’s equality legislation & so on) will make it so.

    If Reg ‘brings the loyalists into the political process’ it will be in order to use loyalist paramilitarism to threaten Dublin. That is the only conceivable reason for him doing all this ‘engaging’ etc., etc.

    Timely reminder about the fire extinguisher in the Mansion House by the way from the loyalists…

  • David

    It is interesting to reflect that those who have condemned Reg and Davie the loudest tend to be the ones who were most strident during the ‘Troubles’. Reg and Davie have made it clear that they are working towards moving Loyalism beyond paramilitarism. Now what is wrong with that? Unless of course you come from the background that opposes a devolved government thus you don’t want a ‘Taig’ or a ‘Loyalist’ about the place.
    But in the future if our political inertia led to a renewal of conflict then it would be time for ‘Ulster Resisitance’ etc. And the high moralists would lead the charge.

  • Dec

    Indeed, the UVF has had a number of opportunities since May 15 to help Sir Reg and silence his internal critics. They did nothing…

    On the contrary, the UVF have been far from inactive.

  • lily

    Its about time Peter Robinson stopped having ago at other Unionist Parties and started to think about the number of protestant people his party will be putting out of work come the 24th Nov. We as unionist people have nothing to fear from S/F but to listen to the DUP you would think we have. At least Sir Reg is willing to move on and if that means talking to paramilitries then so be it, what the DUP need to wake up to is that they are part of our community and we cant move on without them.

  • Elvis Parker

    Re: Talking to paramilitaries:
    What is it about ‘f**k off’ they dont understand!
    Reg has trashed his party’s standing.
    Can you imagine any other politican doing this?
    The man is a prat and he has greatly hastened the demise of the UUP – for which we should be thankful

  • pondersomething

    I would say well done to Reg and I’m glad he’s sticking to his guns – the DUP seem determined to knock him off path and he’s having none of it.

    Elvis – Reg is taking a courageous route which is far from without it’s hazards. There’s no discernible party political gain in it for him – if Reg’s strategy pays off it will benefit not just loyalism but everyone living here.

    It would have been much, much easier to have just sat on the fence with the other parties and done nothing to help the loyalists move forward – he’d have avoided lots of flak that way.

    It’s easy to ‘lead’ when everybody agrees with you – that’s not really leadership at all. At least Reg has the guts to take risks for what he believes in.

  • Crataegus


    I would say well done to Reg and I’m glad he’s sticking to his guns

    He sure is!!

  • Sir Reg should be congratulated. After Trimble, people argued things could only get better for the UUP. Against all the odds, he’s proved them wrong.

    Alex makes several interesting comments, and like him, I imagine most of us know that the UUP kept “backdoor channels” with SO-CALLED “loyalist” terrorists for years. That is one good reason for no-one supporting the UUP.

    There is no place for terrorism in politics. Terrorists should be preferably in jail, or beyond this earthy veil. Simple.

  • pondersomething

    Well in that case he’s sticking to his guns in order to get rid of the guns… 😉

  • exuup

    what i find so amazing in all this is the lack of any mention of the forces of law and order in dealing with these CRIMINALS.
    Fuk the idea of bringing them in from the cold. round the up , arrest them and let them rot in prison instead.
    Reg obviously knows who a few are for a start…