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Owen Paterson demands to see UUP leader over secret UUP/DUP "unity talks" convened by the Orange Order

UK map with union jack flag Paul Goodman rightly wrote earlier this week in support of Owen Paterson for helping convene talks between the two main Unionist parties in Northern Ireland - the UUP, with whom the Conservatives have forged an electoral alliance, and the more hardline DUP.

However, the latest news to emerge fro Northern Ireland, according to the BBC, is that the UUP and DUP both took part in secret "unity talks" convened by the Orange Order in December.

This is a somewhat alarming development and Mr Paterson has told the BBC that he knew nothing about the meeting, would not comment until he had spoken to UUP leader, Sir Reg Empey, and that he was seeking to speak to him urgently.

More detail will follow as and when it emerges.

3.45pm update: Owen Paterson has released the following statement:

"In his capacity as Ulster Unionist leader, Sir Reg Empey regularly meets all strands of opinion throughout Northern Ireland.  He referred 'in passing' to a meeting, requested in October and held in December, but I was not aware of the content or the participants. As there was nothing of consequence arising from the meeting he did not mention it to me again.  Sir Reg Empey has made clear to me that it has no bearing on our joint determination to stand together as 'Conservatives and Unionists' at the forthcoming Westminster elections to bring national, mainstream and non-sectarian politics to Northern Ireland."

5pm update: Sir Reg Empey has made the following statement:

“The Ulster Unionist Party was invited in October 2009 by the Orange Order to a meeting with their Grand Master. On behalf of the UUP I accepted the invitation. Mr Saulters wanted a private and confidential meeting to discuss ‘ways and means of finding co-operation on the way forward.’ I have respected his request for confidentiality. Sadly this was not respected by others. Despite a conversation and discussion on the issues that Mr Saulters wished to raise, no agreements were reached.

"We are often asked to talk about Unionist cooperation where possible and about how best to provide stability for the future of Northern Ireland.  However the UUP is very much aware, given past history, that cooperation is not always achievable. Indeed it makes it much more difficult when a significant aim of one of the organisations you are dealing with is to destroy you. The Ulster Unionist Party will continue to have discussions with organisations on issues that are of benefit to the Union, but we will not be used as an escape route for others who have significant political difficulties.

"Let me also reaffirm my commitment to developing our relationship with the Conservative Party.  Along with our Conservative colleagues we will do all we can to promote, protect and preserve the Union and bring national politics unto the Northern Ireland agenda. The spectacle of recent days in our political journey at Hillsborough illustrates the need to get back as soon as possible to dealing with the issues that matter to people such as jobs, health and education.”

Jonathan Isaby


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