Page last updated at 12:53 GMT, Thursday, 24 July 2008 13:53 UK

Tories talk to UUP on closer ties

David Cameron
David Cameron's Conservatives have discussed co-operation with the UUP

Conservative leader David Cameron has said "politics in Northern Ireland needs to become more like politics in the rest of the United Kingdom".

The Conservatives and Ulster Unionists have agreed to set up a working group to examine the possibility of greater co-operation between the parties.

Private talks between the two parties have been going on since last October.

Speaking to the BBC Mr Cameron said he hoped to create a political force that was both Conservative and Unionist.

"Let's get beyond the old politics of constitution, and orange or green, let's have a national political party that can stand up for people on all of the issues they care about," he said.

"People in Northern Ireland that maybe haven't gotten involved in politics in the past, can think 'Yes, I could join in.' It's a nation-wide party, it's part of the Conservative movement, I can get involved in that.

"It is a political party which is going to stand up for me, is going to get things done for me, is going to stand up for the issues I care about - whether it is fighting crime, giving me more opportunity or strengthening families.

"All of the things we campaign for in politics in other parts of the country."

Both main parties at Westminster have at times adopted policies which have been detrimental to the Union
Nigel Dodds
DUP deputy leader

Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey said his party wanted "the opportunity to explore whether we can play a meaningful role in national politics, as well as local politics".

"We are exploring practical avenues as to how we can give practical expression to the unionism of everybody in Northern Ireland and offer them a product that clearly demonstrates that we're going beyond the parochial issues," he said.

"I think if you look at what's happening to the Union as a whole, there are threats coming from areas that have never come before. There's a nationalist government in Scotland, we've nationalists in coalition in Wales, we've nationalists here in Northern Ireland.

"I think what David Cameron has been doing is setting out a vision for how the entire union should develop and that's the area we want to get into."

The two leaders said the group will report to them in the autumn.

The DUP deputy leader, Nigel Dodds, said that the interests of the Union would be best served by a party free to "make judgements on an issue by issue basis, at all times putting the interests of the Union and unionism first, not the preferences of another political party".

"Both main parties at Westminster have at times adopted policies or promoted measures which have been detrimental to the Union or against the interests of unionists in Northern Ireland," he said.

"Currently both parties have policies which many unionists in Northern Ireland would neither support nor endorse.

"Being free from having the fetter of an imposed whip, whether it is Tory or Labour means we are best placed to speak, negotiate and represent the people who have elected us."

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