Sunday, June 04, 2006

Reg Empey admits his past

I've just spotted this thread on Slugger O'Toole about Reg Empey admitting to past connections with loyalist paramilitaries:

Admitting to his past... where will this take his future?
Empey acknowledged the SDLP leader, remarkable in itself: "All of us - a lot of us - have not had an absolutely pristine record in terms of dealing with paramilitarism. There's a lot of truth in what Mark [Durkan] said." He thought unionist politicians had a responsibility now to "clear up the mess", because in the 1970s and '80s they had used paramilitary organisations for political purposes: "That's a fact." He recalled that the DUP and his own party had been in the same voting group in Belfast City Council for years with David Ervine's party and the UDA's representatives, "and that's when there was no ceasefire".

And finally:

It was a point that Ulster Unionists, like the DUP, were in the habit of dismissing angrily at the time, with much abuse of the journalists who put it to them.

Yes, he had been in Vanguard, Empey said, the umbrella group including politicians and paramilitaries which backed the 1974 loyalist strike, "and I think my attitude in 1974 was wrong". Sir Reg broke ranks, and tore up the pretences. The oddity is that he should have flouted such a tribal rule and had the courage to question his own past so soon after meriting universal scorn. But he did it.
Empey was indeed a leading member of the Vanguard Progressive Unionist Party and then, following a split, Deputy Leader of the United Ulster Unionist Party (irony is not a strong point in the names of a number of Northern Irish parties), but often pasts go unacknowledged. Vanguard at times flaunted its paramilitary links in a way that no major Unionist party would do now and there are no doubt photographs that some would rather not see again. Is Empey's action merely trying to see off any unearthing of such photos? Or is he trying to position the UUP as a party that is more honest about links with loyalists, in the hope of bringing about a ceasefire? Ultimately the ability to deliver a UVF ceasefire will be the mark of his leadership and one wonders if this is another step towards it.

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