Leader and South Down MP Margaret Ritchie of the SDLP has congratulated Tom Elliott from Fermanagh on his election as Ulster Unionist Party leader and paid tribute to his predecessor Sir Reg Empey.
She said: “I have known Sir Reg for a long time and worked closely with him as an Executive Minister in recent years. I am grateful for his support during this time most notably the backing he gave me when I stopped funding the UDA-related Conflict Transformation Initiative and for his ground-breaking invitation to address his party conference in 2007.
“Although we come from different political backgrounds and differ ideologically I have always had a great deal of respect for Sir Reg for his honesty, decency and commitment to peace and power-sharing in Northern Ireland.
Unlike others, Sir Reg did things because it was right to do them despite the political difficulty. While others were opportunists, Sir Reg brought hard work and principle to the process. “As Executive colleagues we witnessed at first-hand the power carve-up between Sinn Féin and the DUP and although our own parties have had our differences in the past it has always been clear in my mind that a stronger and revitalised SDLP and UUP offer far more to the people of Northern Ireland.
“Sir Reg can be rightfully proud of his role in the UUP, who along with the SDLP were the first to show the courage and conviction to enter into a power-sharing administration and were the architects of the settled institutions we now enjoy.
“I would also like to offer my sincerest congratulations to Tom Elliott on his election as leader of the Ulster Unionist Party. I look forward to meeting him in his new role and exploring areas where there is scope for practical co-operation for the benefit of the people we represent.”