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Rethink from Tory candidates after unionist pact fails

By Emily Moulton

Efforts to bring three Conservative candidates back into the Ulster Unionist/Tory fold have moved a step closer after it emerged there would be no pact between the UUP and DUP.

Last night Peter McCann and Deirdre Nelson confirmed they were reconsidering their positions after UUP leader Sir Reg Empey announced there would be no merger between the DUP and UUP following an executive meeting of his party on Tuesday.

It emerged last week that in early December the Orange Order had convened secret unity talks between the two parties at its Belfast headquarters.

DUP leader Peter Robinson and Sir Reg attended the meeting where they discussed the possibility of electoral pacts and forming a unionist bloc at Stormont.

Speculation further intensified after it was revealed the Conservative Party's Northern Ireland spokesman Owen Paterson met with senior delegations from the UUP and DUP in Hertfordshire in early January.

Both meetings caused a big ruction within the ranks and led to the resignation of Tory candidates Mrs Nelson, Mr McCann and party colleague Shelia Davidson.

Last night Mr McCann confirmed moves were being made to bring the trio back into the fold, but he said not all their issues had been resolved.

“There has been enormous progress made in the last few days but there are still some outstanding issues that need to be dealt with before we would be withdrawing our resignations,” Mr McCann said.

“Sir Reg Empey has addressed some of the those which is a tribute to his courage and his leadership.

“One was that they would cease any sort of talks, link-up or pact with the DUP.

“They said they are 100% committed to us and they have named a date as to when the selection process will be completed. They were some of the conditions we wanted addressed.

“It is an enormous, positive step in the right direction.”

Mrs Nelson said Tuesday night’s Ulster Unionist executive meeting did help to address some of her concerns, but would not commit to being “back in the race”.

Besides the issue of a pact with the DUP, the UUP has also been accused of dragging its feet over the selection of candidates for the general election.

Sir Reg said last night that a joint candidate list for the Ulster Unionists and Conservatives was expected to be finalised within the next two weeks.

“They have now given a date for selection which is very encouraging,” Mrs Nelson said.

“But at this point I still have some issues that need to be addressed, but they are internal party issues.

“To say I am back in the race isn’t really a fair comment, but ultimately should I be asked to be there for country or party I will give it full consideration.”

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