Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

UUP leader picks rival’s supporter as his new deputy

Ulster Unionist Party leader Tom Elliott has demoted Sir Reg Empey and not figured rival Basil McCrea in his party reshuffle

New Ulster Unionist leader Tom Elliott sought to build party unity yesterday after making the only Assembly Member to support leadership rival Basil McCrea his deputy.

In his first reshuffle of senior positions, John McCallister replaces Danny Kennedy as the party’s Assembly deputy leader — but there was no new role for defeated Mr McCrea.

Mr Elliott, who shares his Stormont room with Mr McCallister, said: “I did consider a number of options but Basil was keen to maintain his role as a spokesman on policing and education and he will be involved in the party’s election campaign.

“I know it will be seen that way, but as I have said, I do not want the party to be a cold house for anyone and certainly John did not play hard to get.”

South Down MLA Mr McCallister, who defended his backing for Mr McCrea, said he was delighted and added: “The UUP has always provided leadership and along with my Assembly colleagues I look forward to the challenges ahead.”

As expected, Mr Kennedy is |taking over from Mr Elliott’s predecessor, Sir Reg Empey, as Employment and Learning Minister and is expected to attend his first full Executive meeting next week.

The UUP chief said: “Danny and Reg get on very well and Reg has promised to give whatever help and advice he needs in taking up this new challenge.”

Mr Elliott is taking over Mr Kennedy’s role as chairman of the Stormont committee which monitors the office of First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness — a key position in the run-up to next May’s Assembly poll.

“I have been a member of the committee so I am not coming to it totally fresh but there is a challenge there,” he said.

Sir Reg, who celebrated his 63rd birthday earlier this week, will take up seats on the Assembly’s education and justice scrutiny committees.

He confirmed his decision to stand down following the General Election in May when, on a joint ticket with the Conservative Party, Ulster Unionists failed to secure a single Westminster seat.