Page last updated at 10:43 GMT, Monday, 5 April 2010 11:43 UK

Profile: Ulster Conservative and Unionist New Force

Sir Reg Empey
Sir Reg Empey is leader of the Ulster Unionist Party

The Conservative Party and Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) are standing in the Westminster elections in Northern Ireland on a joint ticket.

The name under which they are standing is the Ulster Conservative and Unionist New Force.

They are also known as the Conservatives and Unionists.

The UUP draws its support from the unionist community, the vast majority of whom are Protestant, and it celebrated its centenary in 2005.

It was founded in 1905 when the Ulster Unionist Council was formed, and it remains the party's ruling body today.

In 1921, Ulster Unionists formed the government of Northern Ireland after the island of Ireland was partitioned, and held power until the Troubles.

But this government came to an end in 1972 when, amid widespread civil disturbances and attacks by the IRA and loyalist paramilitaries, ministers introduced direct rule from London.

The UUP was closely aligned with the Conservative Party but the relationship soured when the Troubles emerged. The party tends, however, to vote with the Conservatives in the House of Commons.

In 1998, the now leader of the party, Sir Reg Empey, played a key role in negotiating the Good Friday Agreement.

The year after the agreement was signed he received a knighthood and the then leader David Trimble appointed him minister for trade and enterprise in the Stormont executive.

The UUP had its roots in a long tradition of being the party of government in Northern Ireland.

However, the Democratic Unionists (DUP) overtook the UUP as the largest party in Northern Ireland at the 2003 assembly elections.

In the 2001 election, the party lost three of its Westminster seats to the DUP and David Trimble struggled to maintain his authority within the party which has been divided over its pro-Good Friday Agreement stance.

David Cameron
The UUP formed closer links with David Cameron's Tories in 2008

In 2004, the party's Westminster representation dropped to five when the Lagan Valley MP, Jeffrey Donaldson, defected to the DUP following the party's poor performance at the Stormont election in 2003, where it saw its membership fall from 28 to 27.

David Trimble had fought a long and bitter battle with Mr Donaldson over the direction of the party.

Sir Reg Empey succeeded David Trimble as Ulster Unionist leader in June 2005.

He took over a party in shock after a clear election defeat at the hands of the DUP.

From having 10 MPs in 1997, the Ulster Unionists slumped to a single survivor in the House of Commons in 2005 - with only Lady Sylvia Hermon hanging on in North Down.

Meanwhile, in a separate development in March 2005, the Orange Order ended its 100 year formal association with the party, reflecting changes in both the religious organisation and wider unionism.

The order, many of whose members now support other parties, said the UUP's own restructuring meant that it would have had to make "impracticable changes" to its own constitution.

In recent years, there has been a spotlight on the party's political alliances and, in particular, the issue of unionist unity.

In 2008, the party formed closer links with the Conservative Party.

The two parties agreed to select joint candidates in future European and Westminster elections.

But the new alliance proved unpopular with the party's only MP Lady Sylvia Hermon.

Later, she declared that she would not stand as a Conservative and Unionist candidate but would stand as an independent.

With only one MP, the UUP did not get stung by the expenses scandal. Lady Hermon repaid £2,730 in expenses for rent on a London flat.

However, Lady Hermon said it was due to a clerical error as she was overpaid by two months rental allowance office during 2005-2006.


It also emerged the Orange Order convened secret unity talks between the DUP and UUP in January 2010.

It is understood the parties discussed the possibility of electoral pacts and forming a unionist bloc at Stormont.

However, the party ruled out any merger with the DUP and restated its commitment to its electoral pact with the Conservative Party.

During the intense negotiations leading up to the Hillsborough Agreement, the UUP leader complained about being "sidelined".

Ulster Unionist support for the agreement was seen as crucial, because the DUP has long insisted the wider unionist community needed confidence before a deal could be reached on devolving policing and justice powers.

In March in the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Ulster Unionist Party voted against policing and devolution powers being devolved.

Sir Reg said his party did not believe the time was right for policing and justice powers to be devolved.

"We are a party for the devolution of justice, but it is the conditions to which we are coming," he said.

"We have not had a single solitary discussion at leadership level of what we are going to do with policing and justice."

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