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Conservative pact with unionists on the brink

Michael Crick | 12:20 UK time, Friday, 29 January 2010

I am writing this from Belfast where, amid concern over the future of the Northern Ireland government, another major political agreement here could also be on the point of collapse.

The Conservative Northern Ireland spokesman Owen Paterson is seeking an urgent meeting with the Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey today over the future of the Conservatives' pact with the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP).

This follows revelations on BBC Northern Ireland last night that the Orange Order helped organise a secret meeting last month to discuss a different electoral pact - between the Ulster Unionists and the Democratic Unionists.

The concern among unionists is that a three or four way party split in unionist ranks may enable the former IRA commander Martin McGuinness, now of Sinn Fein, to become First Minister here after the next Stormont elections.

I understand this secret meeting took place without the knowledge of Mr Paterson.

Some in Belfast think that the Conservative-UUP pact is now effectively dead, and that Conservative leader David Cameron will be forced to announce its demise within the next few days.

Last week, three of the most prominent Conservative candidates in Northern Ireland resigned over the situation.

UPDATE at 15:58:

Commenting on UUP & DUP talks, Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Owen Paterson said: "In his capacity as Ulster Unionist leader, Sir Reg Empey regularly meets all strands of opinion throughout Northern Ireland. He referred 'in passing' to a meeting, requested in October and held in December, but I was not aware of the content or the participants. 

"As there was nothing of consequence arising from the meeting he did not mention it to me again. Sir Reg Empey has made clear to me that it has no bearing on our joint determination to stand together as 'Conservatives and Unionists at the forthcoming Westminster elections to bring national, mainstream and non-sectarian politics to Northern Ireland."


  • Comment number 1.

    I think you are right - the Conservative UUP relationship could not survive this. Sir Reg's words about establishing non-sectarian politics here ring very hollow indeed when, in the course of supposedly doing a deal with the Conservatives, he was having tri-partite meetings with the Orange Order and DUP.

    I resigned from the Conservative/UUP Joint Committee nearly a year ago because I felt the UUP leadership was being duplicitous. It looks like I made the correct decision.

    I hope now that Owen Paterson will announce that the Conservative Party will be fielding candidates in all 18 constituencies in Northern Ireland - as the Conservative Party.

    Jeff Peel

  • Comment number 2.


    The news that Robinson was in secret talks with the UUP in early December shows his political acumen at its most brilliant. Clearly he had foreknowledge that the soon to be exposed Iris scandal was going to cause his party severe damage. His salvage tactics were carried out with military precision. Importantly other factors greatly assisted his political machinations.

    Reg Empey, seemingly ensconced with the Tories, failed to question why the DUP had suddenly come a-courtin'. At that point, the DUP were at the top of their game. Was Reg not suspicious? After all, the DUP have spent years treating the UUP with contempt and successfully reducing the party to a shell of its former self.Alas the gods were with Robinson. He found in Reg a political pygmy whose naiveté will likely destroy the connection with the Tories and drive a large swathe of natural UUP supporters back to the garden centres. The electoral benefits of Reg's folly will accrue to the DUP and consign his party to oblivion. [The phrase: "There's one born every minute" springs to mind.]

    With the collusion of a largely tame media, Robinson gave an Oscar-winning performance on 5 January in telling us about Iris's 'inappropriate behaviour'. He deserves a second Oscar for the way he has choreographed the final nail in the UUP's political coffin.


  • Comment number 3.

    Susie - i don`t think the `Irisgate` scandal has lost the DUP any votes. As to Unionist Unity - Robinson has been suggesting it for years, it is not new. As to the Tory-UUP link being dead. I don`t think so - it`s a Westminster pact and seemingly for some sort of legal reasons cannot apply to Assembly elections (maybe to do with the UUP-PUP grouping that was deemed to be not allowed unless they had a central structure, ie a merger more or less??) - so deals there thata re good for Unionism and the Assembly are no bad thing (mindful of the fact that DUP-UUP infighting could allow Jim Allister`s TUV to take enough seats to collapse the Assembly)...

  • Comment number 4.

    Hmmm Mr Peel - resigned is not exactly what happened, was it?

  • Comment number 5.

    7pillars - yes indeed it was. I resigned from the joint committee, and was suspended as a democratically elected party officer by Eric Pickles, Conservative Party Chairman, for making my views on the UUP public.

  • Comment number 6.

    I would have thought any attempts to reduce the fissures in unionism would be welcomed by a unionist party like the Conservatives.

    It is not as if the Tories merged with the UUP rather an electoral alliance was formed.

  • Comment number 7.

    Ref: Post 3 and a nod to Post 6:


    • If you believe that Iris's misconduct has not taken votes from the DUP, you're in a select group of one.

    • Following your logic, unionist unity is a desirable objective even if it involves the UUP getting into bed with a bunch of sectarian bigots. If the Tories were to accept that scenario, it makes nonsense of this recent declaration from Owen Paterson:

    "Sir Reg Empey has made clear to me [his support for] our joint determination to stand together as Conservatives and Unionists at the forthcoming Westminster elections to bring national, mainstream and non-sectarian politics to Northern Ireland."

    • In short, in supporting the UUP linking up with the DUP (if that is the case), the Tories are endorsing sectarian politics in Northern Ireland.


  • Comment number 8.

    #7 Here here!!!

  • Comment number 9.

    Here we are over forty years on from the start of the last lot of trouble and the Orange Order are still causing chaos in Unionism and destabilising their own province. For a people so committed to tradition they clearly have learned nothing from history.

    If there is failure now I can see Westminster, including the Conservatives whose attempt to bring `normal' politics into Northern Ireland was an imaginative idea, washing its hands with the Unionists in the north of Ireland. Westminster has done this once before so it is not a political impossibility. The problem then will be where do we all go on from there?

    Much as I dislike the idea the only party in Northern Ireland with a leadership, a vision of what could be and the political support to achieve it are Sinn Fein. I suggest the Unionists dwell on that thought for a little while, as dear old Sam Johnson argued that the prospect of a hanging concentrates the mind. Unionism has to cut a sensible deal now or lose everything.

    I am always left wondering as to what do they mean by `unionism'. One presumes this to mean that they want political unity with Britain, or is it that they just want to use the British as a big stick in a pointless sectarian argument they are too limited to put to one side for the sake of a peaceful, progressive and much wealthier future?


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