Tories form Northern Ireland party
Published 31/01/2012 | 12:32
The Tories will set up a new party in Northern Ireland to deliver "mainstream, national politics", it has been confirmed.
Conservative Party co-chairman Andrew Feldman announced the party had approved plans for the formation of the new Conservative and Unionist Party of Northern Ireland.
It comes after an electoral alliance between the Conservatives and the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), which fielded joint candidates at the 2010 general election, failed to gain a single MP.
Lord Feldman wrote to UUP leader Tom Elliott last November suggesting the party disband and merge with the new Conservative-led formation, but the offer was rejected. On Tuesday Lord Feldman said: "For too long politics in Northern Ireland have been built around sectarianism and division.
"We want to move past the politics of the peace process to a more normal state of affairs where everyone in Northern Ireland has the opportunity to vote for a modern, centre-right, pro-Union party.
"This new political party won't be encumbered by the conflict and divisions of Northern Ireland's past. We want to reach out to everybody in Northern Ireland, regardless of their background."
According to the plans, the new party will initially have an observer's seat on the Conservatives' main board. It will also have its own chairman, officers and rules, with an interim leader expected to help establish the party ahead of a leadership election in the coming year.
The relationship between the Conservative Party and the UUP stretches back to the partition of Ireland into the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland in 1922. UUP members took the Conservative whip at Westminster until 1972, when the alliance broke down ahead of the proposed Sunningdale Agreement for a cross-border Council of Ireland.
The Tories' failure to make an impact on Northern Ireland's politics since organising there in the 1980s led to the 2008 alliance with the UUP, with candidates standing under an Ulster Conservative and Unionist New Force (UCUNF) banner.
Mr Elliott said last November that there was "no question" of the Ulster Unionist Party being dissolved.