Empey brushes off claims of election u-turn

The leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) brushed off accusations of performing a U-turn today after announcing he would run in the UK's General Election.

The leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) brushed off accusations of performing a U-turn today after announcing he would run in the UK's General Election.

Mr Empey will stand in South Antrim on May 6 despite his vociferous opposition to double-jobbing.

The Employment Minister and member of the North's Assembly for East Belfast said he would have been the only party leader not contesting the Westminster election had he not stepped forward.

“The fact is that we want to give the electorate an opportunity to be a full part of a British General Election, demonstrating that we are part of a national election,” he said.

William McCrea, the sitting MP, re-took the South Antrim seat for the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in 2005 with a majority of 3,448.

Other candidates declared for south Antrim in 2010 are Alan Lawther of Alliance and Mel Lucas of the TUV.

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

The mayor of Antrim, Adrian Watson, had originally been selected as the party’s candidate in South Antrim by the local Ulster Unionist association.

However, the Conservatives – who have an electoral pact with the Ulster Unionists – raised objections and he was rejected by a joint committee of the two parties.

Mr Empey added: “We are offering real choice, we are offering people an opportunity to have a real say in what happens to them, to taxes.

“The government intends to tax jobs and take money out of people’s pockets, we will be opposing that.”

DUP minister Arlene Foster said he was doing a U-turn.

“He very clearly said he was not running for Westminster, he said he wanted to concentrate on the Assembly and now all of a sudden he is running for Westminster and quite clearly he is doing this out of desperation, they could not get anyone else,” she said.

DUP Assembly member Trevor Clarke said: “Reg has clearly made his home in East Belfast and has no track record of work for the people of South Antrim.

“The South Antrim UUP association should buy this East Belfast MLA a map of the constituency for his first night of canvassing.”

Alliance Party candidate in East Belfast Naomi Long claimed it was a slap in the face to the people of East Belfast.

“Far from being committed to representing them, he appears willing to run anywhere where he thinks there might be a better chance for himself,” she said.

“It raises serious questions – will Reg stand down as MLA for East Belfast if elected in South Antrim? Will he, despite his criticism of others for double jobbing, now try to do not just two jobs but for two different sets of constituents?”

Mr Empey said Mr McCrea and East Derry DUP MP Gregory Campbell had both swapped constituencies in the past.

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