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Speech by Reg Empey at an Extraordinary General Meeting of the UUP, 26 October 2007

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Text: Reg Empey... Page compiled: Brendan Lynn

Speech by Reg Empey, then leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), at an Extraordinary General Meeting of the UUP, Belfast, (Friday 26 October 2007)


"Itís a real pleasure to be addressing an EGM which has been summoned for a positive purpose rather than for a showdown.

Tonight is about the way ahead.

This is a very important meeting for our party - arguably one of the most important in our history.

Itís about rebuilding ourselves as a party and then replanting ourselves at the very centre of everyday life in Northern Ireland.

Itís about laying down the foundations upon which we will prepare ourselves for the new challenges which face us in these early years of our second century.

Reform has been talked about for years. Reform has been sidelined for years.

But one thing is clear: we really do have to reform.

Election results, media coverage, internal weaknesses and difficulties all tell the same story: as a party we have been getting a lot of things wrong.

As Leader, I am determined that the primary contribution I make to this party - although hopefully not the only contribution - is to push through the reform that we have needed for decades.

I am determined to leave this party in a better shape than I inherited it.

At our AGM in April, delegates unanimously endorsed a resolution committing us to that reform: and instructing me, as party leader, in conjunction with the Executive Committee, to urgently review and bring forward proposals.

Part of that resolution stated that the UUC, "Determines that it must now become a modern political party, organised, financed and represented in a manner that again attracts the maximum of electoral support."

To assist me in what I knew would be a massive task I sought the help of four convenors - David Campbell, Danny Kingahan, Terry Wright and Alex Kane - and issued a series of invitations to other party members to join them on four review committees.

They were tasked with looking at the specific areas of finance, constituency organisation, communications and the party constitution.

We have made every effort to reach as many members - particularly UUC delegates - as possible. There have been two rounds of roadshows, in Banbridge, Omagh, Coleraine, Belfast, Armagh and Enniskillen. There have been meetings in every association. There have been special meetings of the officers and the executive committee. Tonightís meeting is the culmination of that consultation process.

I am grateful to the convenors and the committee members for all the help they have given. And I am grateful to all of those members and delegates who turned up or found other ways of making an input.

I also want to place on record my own thanks - and those of the convenors - to Mark Neale, who has acted as Secretary to the Review. As well as fronting many of the roadshows, he has also been responsible for bringing together all of the material from the various committees.

Tonight, I am asking you to ratify and adopt the new Party Rules attached at appendix A; and to endorse the actions and recommendations outlined in appendix B.

Any changes we claim to have made will be utterly meaningless if the electorate in general, and our members and supporters in particular, donít see evidence of change; evidence of new thinking; evidence of a renewed presence on the ground; and evidence of an effective performance in the Assembly and its committees, in council chambers and in the media.

We have to prove that we are aware of old failings, confident of our underlying virtues, and ready to put things right.

Let me say, too, that these changes will be utterly meaningless if we donít have discipline in this party.

And the best type of discipline is self-discipline.

The primary task of members of this party - be they ordinary members or elected representatives - is the promotion of the party and the promotion of party policy.

Not the promotion of themselves and their own agenda.

Now, I know that some of you believe that we havenít yet gone far enough or been radical enough. But this process is ongoing.

There will be more lessons to learn and fine tuning will be required.

But what matters most tonight is that the changes we are recommending are more significant, wide-ranging and sweeping than they may seem on paper. If we get these first stages right and put in place, then the Executive can continue to build and improve as and when necessary.

Regarding finance, we have to live within our means, use our money wisely, not place too heavy a burden on our associations and keep loans and overdrafts to a very bare minimum. But we also have to raise money. Politics is an expensive business.

I know that concerns have been raised about how we handled our financial affairs in the past; and I know, too, that members have worried that quotas - difficult to raise in their own right - havenít been used to best effect. The Finance Committee has addressed many of these concerns and set out a series of recommendations.

In terms of constituency organisation we have to be seen as an on-the-ground, relevant and active party. Branch and association members are the front-line troops of this party and it is essential that we mobilise and deploy them to best effect.

Also, our internal and external communications havenít been as effective as they should be or need to be. We will have an uphill task to get the media to take an interest in us again; but it is a task we must set ourselves to.

Just as important is the need to improve the communication structures between the centre and the grassroots; and between the various official bodies and representative groups within the party. We cannot continue with a culture in which are own members believed they were being kept in the dark.

You will note, too, that the rule book has been severely pruned. It is now a more manageable and more comprehendible guide to running our affairs.

The Convenors of the PR/Media and Constituency committees have put together a package of recommendations to address a wide array of problems and those packages will - and quickly - be brought before the Executive Committee for approval and adoption.

I know, too, that there are concerns about selection.

Let me say this to you: If we go into an Assembly, council or general election with a slate of candidates which is overwhelmingly male and overwhelmingly middle-aged, we will have no mission of attracting new or returning voters. We will, in fact and in effect, have made ourselves a very poor choice for women and younger voters.

During the course of the most recent round of consultations, but subsequent to the special Executive on October 6th, a number of issues of concern to members and officers have been aired. The officers met on Wednesday to consider these and decided that they merited further discussion and investigation.

The officers unanimously decided that these issues should be remitted to the Executive for in-depth discussion and resolution.

One of the issues was raised recently by colleagues in Fermanagh/South Tyrone, concerning representation of constituencies on the Executive. The Association feels that there should be a relationship between the memberships of a constituency association and the representation on the Executive.

Another matter was concerns expressed by the UYUC about the method to be adopted for the appointment of a Youth Development Officer. The UYUC feels that they should select this officer in a similar way to the appointment of the Councillorís Associationís representative on the officer team.

I agree that this matter needs further consideration, and if remitted back, I would be supportive of the matter being resolved by reference to the qualifications for a Youth Officer being defined in Standing Orders to the mutual satisfaction of both the UYUC and the Executive.

A similar discussion may be necessary with regards to concerns expressed by the UWUC. Furthermore, as representative bodies, the UYUC and UWUC must be fully integrated and involved at all levels within the party.

To ensure this is achieved I think it is timely to review all these matters urgently, and I will bring a proposal to this effect to the Executive.

The officers also identified a small number of alterations that should be made with regard to definitions: and rather than try and bring amendments on the hoof of this meeting, they feel that these should also be discussed at the Executive.

You may well ask that, if further amendments are required, how will they be dealt with? The officers feel that as we work our way through the standing orders in the next few months, other issues could arise. Consequently, a further opportunity will present itself at the AGM in March to bring forward any tidying up amendments that are deemed necessary.

This method would be in stark contrast to our attempts to deal with amendments at our last, yet unsuccessful, attempt at change in the Europa Hotel in early 2006!

Other issues have been raised over the past six months and I know that some of you were keen to table amendments tonight.

Ladies and gentlemen, the decision not to take amendments is a decision I support. We would have ended up with a never-ending series of speeches and votes and few of us would have been any the wiser at the end of the night.

There are issues which will require serious and detailed debate; but that debate can be held within the confines of the Executive Committee, when there will be the time we need.

Colleagues, we have to demand more of ourselves. We, members and representatives, are the public face of the Ulster Unionist Party. If we, ourselves, canít convince the electorate and the media that we have changed and that we are serious about our own survival and revival, then nobody else will do it for us.

What I am asking you to endorse tonight is not a panacea for all our problems. There is no miracle cure; no instant recovery tomorrow morning. We will still face a daunting and uphill task.

But it is worth doing. The legacy of this party is one of which we should all be proud. We have weathered many storms and faced down many opponents. But we are still here. We are still standing.

And remember this: even with all of our problems in the past ten years in particular, we still managed to deliver a settlement for Northern Ireland which is now accepted by 95% of unionism.

Thatís no mean achievement: and we shouldnít sit back and allow others to take the credit when they themselves did every thing they could to destroy us.

Reform alone isnít enough. Reorganisation alone isnít enough. Better communications isnít enough. A smaller rule book isnít enough. Financial stability isnít enough. A wider array of candidates isnít enough.

Yes, the collective impact of all of these changes will make a difference and it is important that we do things differently and do them better.

But what matters most is that we - as a party - believe in ourselves and are seen to believe in ourselves.

The root of all of this must be confidence in ourselves; confidence in our abilities and confidence in the role that we, and we alone, can play in Northern Ireland.

The message I want to send out tonight - and I want it to be unanimous - is that the Ulster Unionist Party is once again fit for purpose and deserving of votes.

And I promise you this: when we send out that message it will be accompanied by hard evidence of change.

Ladies and Gentlemen: the Ulster Unionist Party is back; back in business; and back to stay.

Thank you."


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