03/02/2010

No DUP/UUP Merger Says Empey

Ulster Unionist Leader Sir Reg Empey has quashed reports his party is set to merge with the DUP.

Sir Reg said the UUP remains 100% committed to its electoral pact with the UK Tories.

At an Ulster Unionist Executive meeting last night, the party rejected what it called "bogus unionist unity talks".

Senior UUP members reaffirmed their agreement to field joint unionist and Conservative candidates in every Northern Ireland parliamentary constituency at the next general election.

Last week, the BBC reported secret talks had been held between the DUP, UUP and Orange Lodge late last year.

It is believed a unionist bloc at Stormont was discussed, amid growing fears of a three-way split in the unionist vote.

Should the DUP lose electoral ground to the UUP or hardline Traditional Unionist Voice - led by Jim Allister - Sinn Fein could be returned as the Assembly's largest party, and occupy the office of First Minister.
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A DUP delegation including Peter Robinson and Nigel Dodds reportedly met with Sir Reg and the Orange Grand Master Robert Saulters regarding the matter in December.

Last month the two unionist parties held secret London talks facilitated by the Tory shadow NI secretary Owen Paterson.

Two possible Ulster Conservative and Unionist New Force candidates - Sheila Davidson and Peter McCann - withdrew there nominations in protest at what they believed was the UUP siding with a 'tribal' party.

The latest announcement by the UUP Executive could strengthen the resolve of the party's sole Westminster MP.

Maverick parliamentarian Lady Hermon has said she will not stand under a joint Unionist and Conservative banner at the next election.

The popular North Down MP has still to be officially selected to contest her constituency, despite winning the backing of local UUP members.

It is has been suggested Lady Hermon could eventually stand as an independent unionist candidate.

(PR/BMcC)

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