Category: Archive

Echo Editorial: Reg the restorer?

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Many of the party’s most prominent politicians over the years have been dour, colorless figures; most of the readers of this newspaper do not have much sympathy for the ideology of unionism in general and, with Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionists now the majority party in the pro-British community, the UUP just does not seem all that important to many people.
Despite all that, however, the election of Reg Empey to succeed David Trimble at the helm of the party should not be dismissed as a trifling matter. A great deal – including the likelihood of real progress being made towards permanent peace in Ireland – will depend on whether Empey can lead the UUP back to dominance within unionism.
First, let’s look on the bright side. Empey is almost universally acknowledged to be an affable and courteous man. That alone marks a stark contrast with Trimble, who was notoriously irascible.
Empey’s capacity for diplomacy may also ease the factional friction within his party. Since the signing of the Good Friday agreement, the UUP has been riven by fierce struggles between its moderate and hardline wings. Empey may be the man to finally restore some calm.
But there are traps for Empey, too. They are largely rooted in the sorry state of the UUP at present. The Ulster Unionists were left with just a single seat after the most recent Westminster elections – Sylvia Hermon, wife of a former RUC chief constable, was elected in the affluent redoubt of North Down.
Reg Empey’s leadership of Ulster Unionism will ultimately rise or fall on his electoral performance. But if he tries to challenge Paisley by moving the UUP onto a more dogmatic or belligerent footing, disaster looms.
As has been proven innumerable times over the past four decades, it is politically suicidal to try to ‘out-Paisley’ Paisley. The raging reverend will always hold the trump card in that game.
Empey must instead have the courage of his moderate convictions. He needs to steer a sensible, progressive course, and retain his confidence that such a strategy will pay off in the long run.
President Bill Clinton was fond of invoking the notion of “restoring the vital center” in American domestic politics. The vital center is equally important in Northern Ireland. Reg Empey needs to play his part in its restoration.

Other Articles You Might Like

Sign up to our Daily Newsletter

Click to access the login or register cheese