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Sir Reg Empey will come to table only on his terms

Analysis by Noel McAdam

Pity poor Sir Reg Empey, under pressure to save his wee country by taking one of two diametrically opposed decisions.

Alliance, currently no buddies of the UUP leader, urges him to “do what is right for the people of Northern Ireland” by signing up to the Hillsborough deal on policing and justice.

And Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister asks him to come to the aid of the future and “not provide Peter Robinson with the fig leaf he so desperately needs” — by doing exactly the reverse.

But pity Sir Reg at your peril. This is precisely where he has positioned his party in the run-up to next week’s vote in the Assembly to formally trigger the transfer of responsibilities from Westminster. He’s not saying ‘no’, but he ain’t saying ‘yes’.

Intent on ensuring clear red, white and blue water between the DUP and UUP for the looming election period, Sir Reg can still be brought to the table — but only on his own terms.

The utterly earnest UUP boss is employing the leverage his strategy has created, with the DUP seemingly insisting it would be impossible to go into full approval mode without the support of the UUP.

Negotiations can be expected, as ever, to go down to the wire, with the education debacle over academic selection, the dysfunction at the centre of the Stormont Executive and a pan-unionist candidate pact for South Belfast and Fermanagh/ South Tyrone all expected to be in the mix.

So while still hard to call which lobby he will walk into come Tuesday, Sir Reg is not one for walking away.

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