Northern Ireland unionist leader to step down

15th May 2010, Comments 0 comments

Reg Empey said Saturday he would resign as leader of Northern Ireland's Ulster Unionist Party after it failed to win any seats in the British general election.

The UUP formed an alliance with the Conservatives, who topped the polls last week's election, but failed to win any of Northern Ireland's 18 seats, with Empey among the losing candidates.

It is the first time the UUP has had no seats in the British parliament for more than a century.

Empey, 62, who has led the UUP since taking over from Nobel Peace Prize winner David Trimble in June 2005, will stand down before the next party conference, to be held in late October or early November.

"Following a disappointing election campaign I feel that the party needs to review its position," the former businessman said.

"I remain confident by the fact that our vote held and indeed increased in most constituencies.

"However I know we have made mistakes. I take full responsibility for this."

The UUP, moderate Protestant conservatives who favour keeping Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom, were the biggest party in the province, and the fourth biggest in the British parliament, but have been overtaken by the more hardline Democratic Unionists (DUP) in recent years.

They came fourth in Northern Ireland in the general election, with 15 percent of the vote.

The UUP's decision to team up with the Conservatives angered some, including Sylvia Hermon, their only member of the British parliament, who left and successfully defended her seat as an independent.

"We will continue to talk to unionists on the ground asking where they want our party to go," Empey said.

"Over 100,000 people voted for us in this general election -- we will not let them down."

Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson, the DUP leader, lost his British parliament seat in the biggest shock result of the election.

© 2010 AFP

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