DERRY — Sir Reg Empey was elected as the new leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) on Friday, after gaining 53 per cent of the party vote in the second ballot, replacing the David Trimble as the embattled party’s head.
Empey, a member of Northern Ireland’s suspended legislative assembly, succeeds Nobel Laureate Trimble, who resigned after the UUP’s heavy defeat at the May General election.
After his victory in Friday’s ballot, Empey said he would remain as leader for no more than five years. Empey is only the 13th leader in the party’s history, and takes over at a time when the party is at its weakest ever.
Until 2001, the UUP was the largest party in terms of political support and political representation in Northern Ireland. Its share of seats at the UK parliament in Westminster dropped from ten in 1997 to five in 2001, as Protestant-unionist disenchantment grew with the post-peace agreement political stasis in Northern Ireland.
After the recent UK General Election, the UUP was reduced to just one seat out of Northern Ireland’s 18 – that held by Lady Sylvia Hermon in North Down.
Hermon did not contest the party leadership, but supported Empey against the other two contenders, assembly members Alan McFarland and David McNarry.
Empey, a senior member of Trimble’s team that negotiated the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement, is widely regarded as a reliable figure whose tenure is intended to manage a rebuilding phase.
Empey made his first foray into Northern Ireland politics as party leader over the weekend, speaking about the importance of managing Northern Ireland’s marching season, which this year will culminate with the 12 July parade in Derry/Londonderry.
Already, riots have taken place at disputed marches in north Belfast, where residents object to the exclusively Protestant Orange Order parading through Catholic-nationalist neighborhoods.
The 12 July parades commemorate the 1690 victory of the Protestant Dutch King William over the Catholic King James II in the struggle for the English throne.Show