Any dream [team] will do?

At the time of the announcement there was speculation in the comments zone here on Slugger, about the circumstances in which the UUP leadership had decided on their ministerial nominations, and the BBC’s Martina Purdy has been talking to some other party sources. Those sources have told the BBC that Alan McFarland turned down the position of Health Minister and advised party leader Reg Empey that he “should focus on rebuilding the party rather than taking a ministerial job himself.” In the end the UUP leader decided to nominate Michael McGimpsey as Minister for Health.. and take Employment and Learning himself. The BBC’s Mark Devenport adds some of his thoughts on the post-Election Blog Adds Newsline report [RealPlayer file] Reg Empey – “How we organise ourselves is our internal business and we’ll be addressing that at the weekend.”From the BBC report

BBC Northern Ireland political correspondent Martina Purdy said that initially Sir Reg was considering taking the health post himself, while appointing his deputy Danny Kennedy as Minister of Employment and Learing.

“But Sir Reg had a change of heart after being advised by Mr McFarland that the challenging health job would leave the leader no time to focus on rebuilding the party,” she said.

Sir Reg Empey took the employment and learning job

“Consequently, the BBC has learned that on Good Friday the leader and Alan McFarland discussed other options.

“These included Mr McFarland becoming health minister while Sir Reg took up the post of employment and learning.

“However Mr McFarland, after further consideration, stuck to the view that the leader should put the party first and remain out of government – contending the leader was the only one with the authority to sort out the problems facing the Ulster Unionists.

“The disagreement resumed after the Easter break and ended ultimately in Sir Reg taking employment and learning himself and offering the health job to Michael McGimpsey.”

Adds As Rubicon points out in the comments below. There was more speculation in another thread [comment number 8]

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  • Rubicon

    Pete – I posted this a couple of days ago ( From Martina’s report it would appear that McFarland refused the Ministerial role – I’d heard the offer was withdrawn. Listening to the news this evening it appears Reg is refusing to comment.

    Since McFarland hasn’t got his way (and has not been appointed to any position in the Assembly) I expect he’ll be mounting a leadership challenge against Reg. Some things in the UUP don’t change.

    In McFarland’s favour – he’s right – Reg should be attending to party reform. In Reg’s favour, the decision was his to make and McFarland/Donaldson type blackmail makes party reform pretty academic when the MLA’s won’t abide by the party line. It was Reg’s choice and McFarland demonstrated very poor political judgement in the way he dealt with the matter. Some will describe this as “honourable” – but, I’d wager he’ll not be the winner of any leadership vote.

    Does this much matter anyway? McGimpsey is far more able than McFarland, the UUP being dysfunctional as a party is already well known and DEL is the most likely ministry to go under RPA. Depending on your view of McFarland – he’s either demonstrating true leadership – or is a complete buffoon. Either way, I don’t think people much care.

  • Lagan Valley

    Reg Empey has handled this whole matter terribly badly. From the BBC report, he clearly placed his own ambitions to become a minister ahead of the need for party reform.

    It was completely correct of Alan McFarland to say that with the party in the dreadful going-down state it is in, party reform needs the full intention of the party leader.

    Instead Empey seems to want to spend his time into managing a minor government department and neglecting the party he is the leader of – he can’t do both at the same time!!

    No other party leader has taken up a ministry – and because they all see their responsibility to build their parties, instead Reg doesnt see this and just wants to be a minister!!

    I dont see why Reg Empey so desperately wants to be a minister, not if he is in any way serious about leading the party. He can’t do both jobs at once!! Its all nonsense he has totally sidelined senior figures like David McClarty and now he has picked this pointless fight with Alan McFarland when he should be spending time focussing on leading the party.

    If Empey wants to be a minister so much then he should focus on that and resign his leadership role this Saturday!

    If he doesnt do so, he should be challenged from the floor, so that the major concerns of the party grassroots can be heard and debated and we dont have the usual sort of managed meeting but that instead all the grassroots concerns are debated freely, and democratically.

  • Ignited

    A Leadership challenge would be extremely unwise the main focus for the next few months is party reform, and with a new leader or even the unstabling of the current one, party reform would be unachieveable due to the divisions it will create.

    I completely agree that Reg should not have taken a ministry and stated my concerns about Michael McGimpseys role in the blog piece dealing with that.

    On McFarland: I’m no great fan of his but I admire him for his stance and bluntness with Reg. Unfortunately it is up to Reg to choose his ministers and he didn’t cave in – which to me shows there is still a decisive side to Reg which we need to see more often.

  • Cato

    I think his comment that ‘how we organise ourselves is our internal business’ is political folly of the most pronounced kind.
    Political parties, especially those on their knees, should be as open and transparent to the public as possible.
    Reg ought to be making the wider, liberal unionist community feel like they can have a stake in the future direction of the party.
    He could do that by making it feel like an open movement, and not by slamming the door.
    Can anyone imagine David Cameron taking over the leadership of the Tories and saying ‘how we organise ourselves is our internal business’?
    Heaven help us!

  • T.Ruth

    Next defection to the Tories will be Lady Hermon in what will be an attempt to preserve her North Down parliamentary seat. This ploy will fail but not before the UUP is well damaged-holed below the water line.Sir Reg’s judgement is on a par with that of Cameron who holds the view that Trimble is a man of sound Judgement-bodes ill for all those horrified at the thought of twenty more years of”New” Labour misrule with the UK supporting US wars in N.Korea; Iran; Cuba ;Zimbabwe; Soudan; Somalia.With Trimble coming on board the Tories are like the guys holding onto the iceberg and saying “Don’t worry -here comes the Titanic.”

  • carnmoney

    Reg ought to be making the wider, liberal unionist community feel like they can have a stake in the future direction of the party.
    Round here, faced with the Burnside legacy, anyone remotely liberal voted for Alliance – if not first preference, second after Danny Kinahan. Burnside and Nicholl didn’t seem to have anything to connect with ‘liberal unionism’.
    Seems like a very big task to win them back, and not helped by continuing signs of tension and bickering over the (two only) ministerial cars.

  • Cato

    From what I know of Lady Hermon, she is left of centre on socio-economic matters which ought to preclude her joining the Tories.

  • Cato,

    Cameron is left of center on socio-economic grounds! Did you not catch Oliver Leftwings claim that the Cameronians want to pursue “the redistribution of wealth”? Her Ladyship would be quite at home with the spineless wonders of Tory lite.

    As for Empey – there comes a point where it just becomes farce. I think we’re now there. In fairness to McFarland, he seems to show some interest in reviving his Party. Sir Reg is only interested in reviving his Ministerial career.

  • Plum Duff

    Jaysus, I never thought I would ever agree with David Vance! Nevertheless, he has it bang-on. Reg, to all appearances, was interested *only* in the chauffeur-driven Mondeo. The UUP came in second place to the interests of ‘Mine over Paahty’. Apols – worser(!) pun than usual!

    On a related thread, it’s interesting to note Brian Feeney’s take on the same subject. Curiously similar in direction, IMHO, to David’s train of thought.

    Can everyone but Reg be wrong?

  • BonarLaw

    Thanks for that Plum Duff.

    I can’t abide Feeny or his rantings but in this case I have to admit a smile at “Sir Reg never-to-be-MP Empey”.

  • darth rumsfeld

    next to join the Tories won’t be her fragranceness, but Lord Rogan. Or of course (and I know how ludicrous this sounds as I type it) perhaps Lord Ballyedmund might be considering a change of party- really what are the chances of that happening?

    I’ll get me sash

  • Yokel

    I smell a palace coup coming on.

  • Bonar Law


    “I smell a palace coup”.

    Who will wield the knife? More to the point who will inherit the kingdom that is the UUP?

    Sylvia could be a potential leader because:

    a) she’s the only MP
    b) she cannot be a minister and therefore can concentrate on party reform
    c) she could keep an eye on the restless McFarland from a position of relative influence

    Out of the depressingly shallow talent pool that is the UUP Assembly Group who is there to do the job? Really, who would the general public take seriously when faced with First Minister Robinson at the next Assembly election?

    It looks like Red Sylvia or no one to do the necessary.