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Sir Reg is warmly received by Tories

Sir Reg Empey was rewarded for his decision to join up with the Tories by being given star billing on the conference platform during devolution hour yesterday.

While the rest of the assorted Welsh, Scottish and Northern Ireland representatives had to make do with a shared question and answer session in the main hall at Manchester Central, the Ulster Unionist leader had his own 10- minute slot at the lectern.

He used that to insist Northern Ireland did not always want to be treated as a special case or viewed as an on-going problem — sentiments that sparked the first of four rounds of applause.

Sir Reg argued David Cameron had a genuine interest in Northern Ireland — something the only UUP MP, Lady Sylvia Hermon, is known to strongly dispute — and is the man to protect the future of the Union.

That earned him some more fervent clapping.

Whether the wider party hold the needs of Northern Ireland close to their hearts remains to be seen. There were little more than 200 activists in the hall for the devolution section.

Numbers rose as Sir Reg began his address but that, it would appear, had more to do with keen delegates arriving early to bag a seat in time for the next speaker — Tory big gun William Hague.

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