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.

,

  • Kensei

    The lady doth protest a touch too much there. And blaming the Conservatives and ignoring the context is a complete cop out.

  • Paul

    Well done Reg and well said

  • Kensei

    joe

    I don’t doubt that he doesn’t care about religion of his candidates. But there are indifferences of a differnet sort there also, both in the willingness to chuck anyone off a cliff for short term advanatge, and to the dificulties and senstivities faced by thos ecandidates.

    And passing the buck to the Tories without comment is a complete cop out.

  • Scaramoosh

    Well done Brian Walker – a blog that shakes up the political classes.

  • Why did Longfellow come to mind? —

    Though the mills of God grind slowly,
    Yet they grind exceeding small;
    Though with patience he stands waiting,
    With exactness grinds he all.

    As I read it, the three drop-outs did so because of unconscionable delays in the selection process. That seems common ground between both accounts. And that, in itself, puts a strong question mark upon Empey’s Pontius Pilate moment:

    However what has happened is an internal matter for the Conservative Party, and it is not me to comment… 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.

    What remains in doubt is why the process was strung out to this degree. Was it lack of collaboration between the contracting parties in UCUNF? Or was it a deliberate ploy: “if we hang it out long enough, they’ll get the message and go away”?

  • BryanS

    Reg, [text removed – mods]Your delay in sorting out the labour supporting Mrs herman is a disgrace to the voters of N Down – hardly a socialist constituency and certainly one where the residents have been most damaged by labour’s destruction of pensions and savings.

  • [text removed – mods] Nobody with any leadership qualities would preside over the car crash situation that is Lady Hermon and the selection of UCUNF (or whatever it is) candidates. It sends out a message of weakness and incompetence. If not anything else, it’s an example of terrible PR.

  • Framer

    Nobody presides over Sylvia Hermon. She does exactly what she wants and nothing else. That is after getting into parliament courtesy of the local UUP members.

    The question for Reg is simply does he force her to go independent like Jim Kilfedder or tolerate her refusal to take any party discipline as the lesser of two evils.

    It looks like he will let her walk but it does make the UUP look weak. However it has always been a party of individuals, being neither a fundamentalist sect nor an army council.

  • Kensei

    Mick

    Actiosn speak louder. And the problem, as I pointed out is taht he said a lot without a saying very much.

    It’s easy to state that you are against sectarianism and it’s someone else’s problem. It’s another to actually deal with the issue — potential deal, cause of delays, statements by the stood down candidates.

    Have you anything to add, or are you just here for your daily spin?

  • What has Reg`s membership of the Orange Order got to do with candidates in the UUP? It is quite possible to have theological disagreements with the Roman Catholic Church and other religions and have impartiality and equality with regards candidates religion.

  • abc123

    “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.”

    Agreed. Hiccups are bound to happen when two parties link up. All concerned need to just push ahead and ignore people in the media. I look forward to joint C&U candidates standing at the next election.

  • Marlaghman

    UUP still have not got it. Still the arrogant party looking down at the working class, will not be able to hang a sash around any old goat and get them voted in now, will need to change their ways and work on the ground a lot more, but wee Jim will give them all a shock

  • Kensei

    Kilsally

    What has Reg`s membership of the Orange Order got to do with candidates in the UUP? It is quite possible to have theological disagreements with the Roman Catholic Church and other religions and have impartiality and equality with regards candidates religion

    It might be unfortunate but it muddies the water when you are part of an explicitly anti-Catholic organsation.

  • It’s another to actually deal with the issue—potential deal, cause of delays, statements by the stood down candidates.

    Who “stood them” down? What statements?

  • Garza

    I don’t know why people keep on saying how the British governmnet has to be neutral and an honest broker.

    Are FF going to be a honest broker when they start up here outta interest??

    This was always going to happen if peace and stability was acheived here, the British parties were always going to cast an electoral eye over the water to us. 18 seats is alot (should actually be more due to our population).

    To be honest we should be welcoming professional parties from Britain and the ROI to compete here and hopefully replace the bunch of amateurs we have here currently.

  • Kensei

    oneill

    Where there not statements from Facebook or Twitter from one of the candidates ont he previous threads. And in any case, if it was simply a matterof timing, he could have expressed regret and encouraged them to come back and keep trying etc.

    But please, attempt to spin as you wish. You’ll have a hard time to beat Chekov’s comedy efforts, though.

  • Kevsterino

    I can see how problems can arise when 2 parties are trying something that has never been tried before, eg this whole merger thing that isn’t a merger, but is, sort of…

    As far as Sir Reg’s brave anti-sectarianism is concerned, people might be forgiven for thinking that Orange doctrine and sectarianism are inextricably linked. Moving Catholics into positions of political power doesn’t appear to be a goal of the Grand Orange Lodge.

  • Kensei,

    So they weren’t “stood down”?

    The only direct information we have regarding the meeting concerned comes from Parsley and that directly contradicts what Walker and apparently you are alleging.

    The *statement* on facebook, as I recall, didn’t relate to Deirdre Nelson’s reasons for withdrawal but Conservative disquiet at an alleged DUP link-up.

    But please, attempt to spin as you wish.

    Dealing in hard facts at this stage. When I know the full story which will inevitably come out then I’ll form my own opinion rather than relying on other’s spin.

  • Driftwood

    Peter McCann and Sheila Davidson have just been on talkback stating that it was just frustration at the length of the selection process and they were still Conservative, and non-sectarian Unionist. No big deal.
    Sorry to burst your balloon Kensei.

  • It occurs to me that it comes down to conflicting agenda (plural of “agendum”):

    The UUP’s problem is that, for the first time in over a century, they had little or no political traction at Westminster. Hence, UCUNF was a way of getting back into the debate. Now the bill is coming due, and the UUP needs to weasel its way out of paying the unwelcome additions.

    The Tory problem is that Cameron has to be got off the hook of his self-inflicted “cast-iron” promise/pledge/aspiration to have an explicit Tory on every ballot paper.

    The missing premiss in each was the existence of the DUP. While the DUP were riding high, it didn’t matter if a few votes went UUP/Tory/whatever: the only price was South Belfast. No great loss in a Labour-dominated Parliament. Now the balance has shifted decisively; and everyone is waking up to the schlock-horror of more equal splitting of the Protestant/Unionist electorate.

    Beyond that we have the myth of a Conservative Party in Northern Ireland. Convince me, please, that the NITories are more numerous, more potent, more effective than, say, Mebyon Kernow (which has three elected representatives at unitary “super-council” rank).

  • Driftwood @ 01:00 PM:

    Nice forward defensive stroke there, but it still leaves my earlier point unanswered. Allow me to re-employ those little electrons and pixels:

    … why the process was strung out to this degree. Was it lack of collaboration between the contracting parties in UCUNF? Or was it a deliberate ploy: “if we hang it out long enough, they’ll get the message and go away”?

  • Greenflag

    I read Brian Walker’s article on Sunday and I did’nt see it as ‘tarring ‘ Sir Reg Empey as a bigot. Walker’s article obviously hit a nerve with the so called new found image makers of UCUNFery.

    Malcolm Redfellow also raises the overlooked point of the process of selection being strung out with an election imminent. Now why exactly would that be ?

    I’ll take Empey’s word for it that he is not a bigot, but his frequent use of the personal pronoun ‘I’ above indicates very clearly he’s speaking for himself . The UUP ‘selection’committees may operate with a lot less reticence in the matter of naked sectarian preference . We already had ‘rumbling’s ‘ from the South Belfast Unionist Association earlier re their candidate selection .

    Brian Walker’s reminder of the ‘Boyle ‘ failed nomination from 30 years ago is just another reminder not that one was needed, that the ‘face’ of unionism does’nt change no matter how much the leader /leaders might try to force a new image for the modern era .

    If there was a dearth of ‘Catholic ‘ unionist candidates before this debacle there will be even more of a dearth after . So it’s back to monolithic one party ‘unionism ‘ then as of old . The fact that it did’nt work then only means that it will work even less well now .

    The harsh reality facing the UUP is that while it’s perfectly possible to be an English Catholic and a Tory the same is not true for being a Catholic and a UUP /DUP candidate . Which is of course why the UCUNF experiment was foisted on the UUP . Cameron’s new found all embraceable ‘unionism’ has simply come up against the rock face of sectarian ‘unionism’ .Our history should tell us who will come off second best in such encounters.

    The Tories would have been better off not meddling in Northern Ireland and allowed the local ‘unionists’to carve up whatever Westminster seats are ‘available’ to unionist candidates .

  • Greenflag

    garza ,

    ‘hopefully replace the bunch of amateurs we have here currently.’

    The current Tory Party effort to replace your ‘amateurs’ with their new brand of UCUNF ‘professionals ‘ has about the same credibility as a whale claiming that he ended up in the Meditterranean due to having swum across the Sahara 😉

  • BryanS – you can hardly argue that Labour in the UK is a socialist party can you as your post of 1105am suggests.

    What I would like to see from Reg Empey to test his sincerity on the issue of ‘working for a brand of unionism that encompasses the entire community’ is an acceptance that people-be they ‘unionist’ or ‘nationalist’ can embrace Irish culture and language. At present, the UUP appears to be a monoethnic, monocultural and [possibly] sectarian [little] party. (to paraphrase a former leader!).

    He could start by accepting as an opening position the Church of Ireland position paper on the Irish language – hardly a radical and extreme document though the underlying message of mutual respect and diversity may be extremely painful for the ears of some unionist (and republican) politicians.

    http://www.ireland.anglican.org/cmsfiles/pdf/Information/Submissions/Ch_Soc/coiirish.pdf

  • Kensei

    oneill

    The only direct information we have regarding the meeting concerned comes from Parsley and that directly contradicts what Walker and apparently you are alleging.

    I am not alleging anything; I was simply loose with my language. I’ll take whatever Parsely says with a pinch of salt

    Anyway, I think I’ll concur with Sammy Morse on the other thread:

    It’s just coincidence that both your Catholic candidates did this at the same time, and were coincidentally joined by your ex-DUP candidate, at the end of the week when the DUPFUC merger talks leaked? Aye, right.

  • Kensei,

    Now three (thank you Driftwood) of those who attended the meeting have stated the reasons for them standing down was frustration at the length of the selection process- the signs were also there a week or so ago on McCann’s Facebook page:

    In October 2009 Peter is chosen by South Belfast Conservative Association as their nominee for the next Westminster election.

    January 2010, Peter is still waiting for the UUP to agree the joint candidate for South Belfast. Time ticks on and the election draws closer

    Rest can be read here:

    http://tinyurl.com/ycwqbsj

    I have as much idea as you, Sammy Morse and Walker about what’s going on in the bigger picture (ie sweet FA). All I can do is take at face-value at this stage what two of the people at the heart of Walker’s allegations have said.

  • Kensei

    oneill

    That doesn’t answer the question of why it was so strung out. Nor doe sit answer question about what discussions went out over a pact, and there are reports that McCann was unhappy with that in private. Nor does it explain why no effort was made to keep them in the running or give assurances regarding process.

    But I’m sure if you are willing to ignore any problems, all will be well.

  • Driftwood

    Here we go..

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/8481191.stm

    Slugger even gets a mention

  • Cynic2

    ” it muddies the water when you are part of an explicitly anti-Catholic organsation”

    …. in the same way that being a member of say the Catholic Church or a Muslim, both of which faiths see Protestants as unbelievers or members of lesser faiths, is then a bar to public office? You cant say you are in favour of equality and then deny freedom of thought, conscious and religion to others.

    It’s what people do and how they behave that counts.

  • Cynic2

    ” I am not alleging anything ……….. I’ll take whatever Parsely says with a pinch of salt”

    and allege that he’s lying?

  • Greenflag

    Which is it Driftwood ? The BBC report has McCann making self contradictory statements ?? as in below quotes

    ‘ I am a member of the Conservative Party and I would enter into any pact or deal where the DUP were part of that ‘
    Peter McCann

    “I am a member of the Conservative Party and I would never enter into any pact or deal where the DUP were part of that.”

    Is it EVER or NEVER ? Mr McCann may be a Conservative but it’s obvious he’s not clued in to how the Tory party has always operated in Ireland .

  • Kensei,

    If you read Driftwood’s link, you’ll see that we’ve moved on with the facts that are available, although I’ll admit I’m interpretating the emphasis differently to him. It doesn’t look great news to me.

    I don’t tend to ignore *problems*(I was one of the few pro-Conservative blogs to question the link up with Kaminski and Co). Once the whole story is out in the open (and if there is any kind of electoral pact it’ll be pretty difficult to keep it secret)then I’ll make up my mind.

  • Kensei

    Cynic2

    and allege that he’s lying?

    Nope, but I can’t be sure he was bending the truth or not giving full disclosure. He is a politicians, and it wouldn’t be the first time he has been less than frank.

    oneill

    That sounds like one of those very politenon-denial denials to me.

  • Damian O’Loan

    Despite the BBC’s attempts at disfiguring Mr McCann’s point, he has clearly contradicted Mr Empey.

    Let’s firstly look at what the BBC has highlighted:

    “I am a member of the Conservative Party and I would enter into any pact or deal where the DUP were part of that”

    Then let’s look at the text:

    “Our sister party seemed to be intriguing into a public link-up with the Democratic Unionists. That was the point where I decided that the process was not going where I wanted.

    “I am a member of the Conservative Party and I would never enter into any pact or deal where the DUP were part of that.”

    Note the ‘never’. A mistake at the BBC perhaps.

    Then let’s take Ms Davidson’s comments:

    “He thought he was doing the right thing in bringing together two parties to discuss how they might join together to help policing and justice move forward as a devolved issue in NI.

    “I would maybe have had a a little bit more sensitivity as to how that would be perceived by the wider community coming into the public domain.”

    These two are in clear contradiction of Mr Empey’s assertion:

    “That three Conservative Party candidates have decided to withdraw from the process is regrettable…However what has happened is an internal matter for the Conservative Party, and it is not me to comment.”

    This is an insulting denial in any case, given that the meetings were tripartite.

    So, like Ian Parsley before, this is a case of manipulation of the facts, if not outright lying.

    Finally, this phrase is a cause for concern:

    “The headline at least suggests that in the past week I have in a sectarian, Machiavellian and calculating manner”

    Clearly Mr Empey understands the words sectarian and calculating; it is equally obvious that he has never read, or at least understood, Machiavelli. That might be acceptable in the common discourse, but he is a career politician. He ought to know that Machiavelli’s primary motivation was to hold together a fledgling state. While his means were unacceptable, his onjective was honourable – to avoid at all costs more bloody division. ‘Machiavellian’ would be too high a compliment for this man.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    I am just amazed that any politician reads this website. Hard to believe they are so restrained as they dont comment.
    A big shout out to all politicians.

  • Greenflag

    fitzjameshorse,

    ‘Hard to believe they are so restrained as they dont comment.’

    Most of them would be scared of too many direct questions and would be shown up for what they mostly are i.e janus faced career pols with an eye on the main chance . admittedly there may be actually half a dozen or so genuine grafters in among the 108 time servers but hey that’s politics NI style and given the limitations how could it be anything else ?

  • Comrade Stalin

    and allege that he’s lying?

    You tell me. Here is what IJP said here a couple of days ago :

    I do not comment on confidential meetings, but I did attend this one. As professional and family people, three of the nominees stated their intention to stand down as nominees for the sole (but understandable) reason that no deadline could be set for final selection of candidates. It is fair to add that they would remain supportive party members.

    Note my emphasis on “sole but understandable reason”.

    Here is what Peter McCann is reported as saying today :

    Our sister party seemed to be intriguing into a public link-up with the Democratic Unionists. That was the point where I decided that the process was not going where I wanted.

    I don’t see anything about family reasons being anything to do with Peter McCann’s decision to resign.

    So which one is the truth ?

  • Comrade Stalin

    Fitz:

    Hard to believe they are so restrained as they dont comment.

    Actually I suspect politicians post here more often than you would think, and they use pseudonyms.

    I, of course, am one of the few posting under his real name.

  • BryanS

    now….. Sammy it could be you…. the only proper communist in the bunch. tell us the truth.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Nope, I am fully clothed.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    as for Catholics believing other mortals are lesser than them.

    Am thinking here that if the Top Man in unionist/tory coalition is an Orange Man he would not attend the funeral Mass of a member of his Party who happened to be Catholic.

    On the other hand a Catholic would attend the Orange mans funeral.

    So its Reg and his ilk who believe Catholics are children of a lesser God.
    Anybody who seriously thinks Reg is not sectarian need only recall that he was once a top man in the Vanguard Party.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Am thinking here that if the Top Man in unionist/tory coalition is an Orange Man he would not attend the funeral Mass of a member of his Party who happened to be Catholic.

    In fairness, the OO seem to have backed off enforcing the rule in those particular cases.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    No I still cant believe that politicians actually read this. According to Wikipedia 96% of politicians read it………but more likely councillors like Ian Parsley and wannabe politicians rather than “real ones”.
    I can see junior researchers in Party offices getting involved here but no serious politician is likely to be reading this.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    well I know Trimble and Rogan went to a funeral Mass in Buncrana for Omagh victims.
    But I noticed Sammy Wilson and Arlene Foster could not bring themselves to attend the funeral Mass for Cardinal Daly.Of course my example of Top Man in unionist/tory party in msg 16 was purely hypothetical.
    But if anyone is reading this who could clarify their own possibly similar position they should feel free to clarify.

  • Sammy Morse

    I wish I could bump this thread because the UCUNF supporters are either grotesquely stupid or wilfully misrepresenting what McCann and Davidson actually said. That’s particularly stupid when you provide a link so we can all see for ourselves.

    [Sheila Davidson] said: “He thought he was doing the right thing in bringing together two parties to discuss how they might join together to help policing and justice move forward as a devolved issue in NI.

    “I would maybe have had a a little bit more sensitivity as to how that would be perceived by the wider community coming into the public domain.”

    Mr McCann said that he took his decision in the light of what he believed the Ulster Unionists were doing.

    “Our sister party seemed to be intriguing into a public link-up with the Democratic Unionists. That was the point where I decided that the process was not going where I wanted.

    “I am a member of the Conservative Party and I would never enter into any pact or deal where the DUP were part of that.”

    People claiming that it is not the case that properly selected Catholic candidates decided not to continue their Tory candidature in large part due to the UUP-DUP talks are either self-deluded or liars. Remember, the DUP is the party that refused to even send a representative to Cahal Daly’s funeral earlier this month.