Empey to join House of Lords

 

Former Ulster Unionist Party leader Sir Reg Empey is to become a member of the House of Lords.

Sir Reg stood down as party leader this year after his party failed to win any seats in the general election.

He led the party for five years and stood down as employment and learning minister after Tom Elliott became UUP leader.

His name is included in a list of peers published today. It is the first list since David Cameron became prime minister in June.

Sir Reg said he intends to continue working for Northern Ireland in his new role.

Educated at the Royal School Armagh and a graduate of Queen‘s University Belfast, Empey was a member of the hardline unionist Vanguard movement of the 1970s and fiercely opposed the Sunningdale Agreement.

In the 1980s he took part in the mass demonstrations against the Anglo-Irish Agreement — an accord that gave the Government more influence in affairs north of the border.

But if the historic Good Friday Agreement of 1998 represented the high water mark for the UUP, with Lord Trimble honoured with the Nobel prize and Sir Reg knighted, its position as the dominant voice of unionism was not to last.

The UUP‘s reputation sank while the DUP, which opposed the deal that saw Sinn Féin enter government, mercilessly attacked their fellow unionists from the sidelines.

The effort of two-time Belfast Lord Mayor Sir Reg to turn his party‘s fortunes around in the last five years were marked by a series of ill-fated link-ups.

He was fiercely criticised in 2006 when he proposed a Stormont pact with the Progressive Unionist Party, the political representatives of the paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force.

The proposal was ultimately throw out by the Stormont speaker. But it was his flirtations with the political mainstream, not its margins, that ultimately heralded his demise.

Teaming up with the Conservative Party two years ago represented a high stakes move, which ultimately failed. He stepped down as leader of the Ulster Unionists last month and was replaced by Tom Elliott.