25 March 2006

Empey accuses DUP of accelerating concessions to republicans


25/03/2006 - 11:22:18

The Reverend Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionists were today accused of looking for cover to enable them to go into government with Sinn Féin.

In his first speech to the Ulster Unionist Council’s annual general meeting since becoming leader nine months ago, Sir Reg Empey launched a hard-hitting attack on his rivals, accusing them of accelerating concessions to republicans rather than stopping them.

Despite heavy losses to the DUP in last year’s Westminster and local government elections, the East Belfast Assembly member insisted the Ulster Unionists were more resilient than some of their critics and rivals believed.

He told UUC delegates in Belfast: “It would be easy – too easy in fact – to take pot shots at the DUP.

“But the fact is that their failure to deliver is having an impact on all of us.

“Neither this party, nor the pro-Union electorate at large, can take any satisfaction when the DUP drops the ball.

“Yet after eight years of telling us that they had all the answers the DUP has stopped nothing, changed nothing and delivered nothing – not a Fair Deal, not a Fairer Deal, not a Fairly Similar Deal, not even a Fairytale Deal!”

He continued: “They won electoral success on a promise to prevent any more concessions. Far from stopping concessions, they have accelerated.

“They are learning that it is not as easy as they thought to deal with a government that puts its own interests first.

“They will end up in government with Sinn Féin – even the famous dogs in the street know that – it is all about finding enough cover, whether from the IMC, which they opposed, or the Prime Minister, for whom they have contempt.”

The former Stormont Economy Minister accused republicans of acting in bad faith in the peace process by maintaining the IRA’s links to criminality.

He also claimed Tony Blair’s government had yielded to republican threats to return to violence and the result had been a catastrophic loss of unionist confidence in the process.

With Mr Blair and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern planning a road map for reviving the the North Assembly which will be unveiled next month, Sir Reg said Stormont could be recalled before the summer.

However he cautioned against an Assembly which was a mere talking shop.

The UUP leader said the North needed a devolved Assembly back to reverse controversial British government decisions such as the reform of post-primary education in the province.

He accused Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain of coming up with proposals for the reform of local government and public bodies which only Sinn Fein liked.

“The spin sounds good that he wants to save money,” Sir Reg observed. “Don’t we all. But local government is much more efficient than central government. Only Sinn Fein supports him.

“This week he proposes to axe the Housing Executive and create seven new housing authorities. He proposes to abolish what has been the most successful public body of them all. Surprise, surprise, only Sinn Féin supports this!”

Sir Reg acknowledged his party had a huge task ahead of it to rebuild itself but insisted that work had begun.

Mistakes had been made from the top down in the UUP, he said, but lessons had been learned.

In a reference to the party’s much-criticised Assembly and General Election campaigns, he vowed: “There will be no more ’Simply British’. No more ’Decent People’.

“No more making it up as we go along. No more cabals running the show.

“Instead, there will be a renewed focus on the virtues and values that have been the bedrock of this party since this council first met a century ago.

“And there will be more reliance on the collective wisdom of our grass roots.”

The UUP leader also pledged to make proposals to bring more women and young people forward as election candidates.

He also announced plans for a forum for UUP members in the west of Northern Ireland to consider issues affecting them and he vowed to improve internal and external communications in the party.

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