Sir Reg Empey: “I am actively working for a brand of unionism that encompasses the entire community”

It’s a while since we had a platform piece from a senior politician, and this one comes from the leader of the Ulster Unionist party for the specific purposes of responding to Brian Walker’s blog on Sunday, blaming Sir Reg for the loss of three Conservative candidates, two of them Catholic and two women. Though it was the implication that he had somehow sought to rid his party of Catholics that Sir Reg strongly refutes below, not least because, he argues, their actions were mostly an internal affair for the Northern Ireland Conservative party:By Sir Reg Empey

Brian Walker’s piece yesterday was clearly written with the aim of tarring me as a bigot. The headline at least suggests that in the past week I have in a sectarian, Machiavellian and calculating manner moved to purge from the Conservative and Unionist Westminster campaign all Catholic candidates. That is offensive and totally inaccurate.

That three Conservative Party candidates have decided to withdraw from the process is regrettable. All three are extremely capable individuals who would have added much to the partnership between our parties and to the political life of Northern Ireland. However what has happened is an internal matter for the Conservative Party, and it is not me to comment. Whether that washes with Brian Walker or not, that is the situation as it stands. Until final candidates are selected they have their processes and we have ours.

My own Party is continuing through its selection process, which we hope will be completed shortly. Some constituencies have completed their process, and others are very close to doing so. I am aware of all or nearly all of the names involved and look forward to seeing the final slate of UUP candidates. I do not care what the religious background of these people is. The religious background of UUP candidates does not interest me. Their sexual orientation does not concern me, nor their race and I am on record strongly urging more women candidates.

I care that all UUP candidates are Unionists. I care that they are committed to a shared future, to delivering national politics to Northern Ireland and I care that they are talented and capable of winning elections and holding office. I wish to see, and am actively working for, a brand of unionism that encompasses the entire community in Northern Ireland, irrespective of religious background. Together with the Conservative Party we are committed to identifying individuals who have all these qualities, and who will help bring national politics to Northern Ireland.

I have not sacrificed anyone for anything, never mind two Conservative Party candidates on account of their religion, and now that those individuals have resigned I neither know nor care what the religion of their eventual replacements will be.

I am not prepared to stand by and let those who should know better portray me as something that I am not. I repeat that it is regrettable that these events have taken place, but to suggest that I either wanted or planned for it to happen is fantasy. My focus remains on keeping devolution going, and making sure that Northern Ireland moves forward.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty