Ulster Unionist Party leader, Reg Empey, has announced a review into his party’s structures- though, as Fair Deal points out, some within the party believe it is policies that are the problem.
However, it appears the party in Lagan Valley has taken a different direction altogether. Basil McCrea, the solitary UUP MLA in Lagan Valley, has confirmed that Stoneyford loyalist, Mark Harbinson, was amongst the party’s election workers in the run up to the March Assembly election.
The admission comes days ahead of an Ulster Unionist meeting, to be held in the Stoneyford Orange Hall, long associated with Mark Harbinson and his controversial Pride of the Village Flute Band.
Reg Empey is due to speak at the meeting (Monday night), alongside Basil McCrea, who has formed a relationship with the loyalist figure in recent months.
Harbinson has long been a controversial hard-line loyalist figure in the south-west Antrim region, an area home to the Orange Volunteers paramilitary organisation. The DUP’s refusal to permit him to join the party in Autumn 2005 led to him going onto BBC Talkback and angrily denouncing the party at a leadership level, whom he claimed had vetoed efforts by local party representatives to bring him into the party. He also confirmed in the interview that he had worked in successive election campaigns for the DUP in Lagan Valley.
In his recent book about the Orange Order, Rev. Brian Kennaway includes photographs of a parade in the village of Crumlin which included a group of men- led by the same Mark Harbinson- illegally marching with colour party as part of an Orange parade in July 2001 and wearing Orange Volunteers t-shirts. In July 2004, Mark Harbinson was the organiser of a contentious parade through a mixed housing estate in Stoneyford, when the Pride of the Village Flute Band once again donned the Orange Volunteers shirts.
The small village of Stoneyford has been the scene of a sustained campaign of sectarian attacks by loyalists over the years, including more than 50 attacks on a catholic-owned business in the village, which ultimately led to the owners abandoning the premises. The failure of the RUC to act against named loyalists from the village in the aftermath of those- and other attacks- is currently the subject of a Police Ombudsman investigation.