Empey's election-battered Ulster Unionists are
poised to assume the role of intermediaries between
Ian Paisley's DUP and Gerry Adams' Sinn Fein,
it emerged last night.
a further clue was uncovered recently that Northern
Secretary Peter Hain is prepared to fudge the
so-called final deadline of 26 March for either
the formation of a power-sharing Executive, or
the complete axing of the Stormont Assembly.
a letter to MLAs, Hain stated he had asked outgoing
Assembly Speaker Eileen Bell of Alliance to continue
as the Presiding Officer in the early days
of the restoration of the Assembly.
Mrs Bell announced her retirement as both Speaker
of the so-called Hain transitional Assembly and
North Down MLA, it is understood she has agreed
to the Northern Secretary's request.
sources ahead of their election post mortem at
Stormont have widely interpreted this move as
Hain's willingness to extend the opportunities
to form the Executive beyond 26 March.
Hain and British Premier Tony Blair had warned
the Northern parties that failure to agree an
Executive by that date would see London and Dublin
move to Plan B.
is the implementation of joint authority of the
North by Westminster and the Dail, radically increasing
the say which the Republic has in politically
running the North.
many of the DUP's 36-strong Assembly team would
be considered either Christian fundamentalist
or very cool on the St Andrews Agreement, a well-placed
DUP source said last night that talk of the party
formally splitting over the deal was utter
those who had resigned already from the party
as the Lame Duck Society, he said
that while devolution was definitely on the cards,
it may not happen by the end of this month deadline.
the campaign on the doorsteps, it was clear this
election was driven by the people. They want devolution,
but contact between ourselves and Sinn Fein will
be through intermediaries at this stage.
night, too, an leading Ulster Unionist source
said it was clear there were individuals within
the UUP Assembly team who could be viewed as fulfilling
this role as 'go-betweens'.
looks certain to be one of the points for discussion
when the UUP holds its initial meetings of the
new Assembly team.
election outcome will dominate the agendas, especially
the question what went wrong? The UUP's
MLAs tally has collapsed from 28 seats in 1998
to 18 in less than a decade. The DUP tally has
increased from 20 in 1998 to 36 in 2007.
the election of leading liberal Unionist MLAs
Alan McFarland in North Down and Basil McCrea
in Lagan Valley, a leadership coup against Empey
is likely to be in the pipeline but not
until the March 2008 annual meeting of the ruling
Ulster Unionist Council.
UUP's traditional Right-wing would either look
to South Antrim's David Burnside or Strangford's
David McNarry as its standardbearer to replace
is understood there have already been informal
discussions between DUP and UUP members within
the past few days about the process of formally
merging both parties into a single Unionist Party.
These discussions also centred on the role of
seat management as well as voter management tactics.