David Blackburn

Further trouble in Northern Ireland

Further trouble in Northern Ireland
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Michael Crick reports that Owen Paterson is seeking an urgent conference with Sir Reg Empey (the UUP leader) after revelations that the UUP held secret talks about a possible electoral pact with the DUP. If the story stands up, the UUP/Tory pro-Union and anti-sectarian alliance is dead. Crick writes:

‘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.’

It may be that the UUP and DUP merely discussed breaking the deadlock at Stormont. But this story and the Hatfield House talks emphasise how the sectarian DUP undermines the coherence of the Unionist cause: three Tory alliance candidates, two of them believed to be Catholics, have resigned after recent disclosures.

Cameron’s desire to free Northern Irish politics from sectarian interests was noble and an extremely sensible way of extending the Unionist cause into the Catholic community. The timing was unwise. The Tories should not have immersed themselves in Northern Irish electoral politics when the position at Stormont was so fragile.

UPDATE: Courtesy of Con Home, Owen Paterson has made the following statement:

'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.'