THE Ulster Unionists and Conservatives have announced the appointment of a joint committee – which will form the link between the two parties.
Selected by Sir Reg Empey and David Cameron, the eight-member group consists of four representatives each.
The UUP members are: peer and former MP Lord Maginnis, deputy leader and MLA Danny Kennedy, UUP chairman David Campbell and UUP treasurer Councillor Mark Cosgrove.
The Conservative Party members are: MP and Shadow Secretary of State Owen Paterson, chairman of the Northern Ireland Conser-vatives Neil Johnston, vice chairman of the Northern Ireland Conservatives Jeffrey Peel and chairman of the North Down Conservatives Paul Megarity.
The joint committee is tasked, as a matter of priority, with bringing forward proposals which will make the new ties between the parties more concrete and tangible.
It has to agree manifesto commitments for candidates standing in Northern Ireland, under the joint ticket, and the “branding” of those candidates, as well as candidate selection procedures.
This could be tricky work given that there may be differences in policy but also as selection of candidates will raise the spectre of whether or not the UUP wants to go for single unionists (agreed with the DUP) at the Westminster polls in Fermanagh and South Tyrone and South Belfast.
The Tories have said they wish to stand in all constituencies in the UK, which could rule out a deal – that is, unless an agreed candidate with the DUP in these seats could still be viewed as a Conservative endorsed runner.
The committee has been asked to report by the end of January for ratification by both parties.
It is also awaiting Electoral Commission approval for the name under which the partnership will appear on ballot papers.
There has been some difficulty in gaining approval for suggestions so far.
Last night the DUP suggested the personnel on the joint committee was uninspiring for a group supposed to present a forward-looking vision.
MLA Michelle McIlveen said: “Almost every one of them is closely associated with the failed policies of the Trimble era.
“Ken Maginnis, Danny Kennedy and David Campbell were all staunch supporters of the approach adopted by David Trimble which heaped humiliation upon our community and saw unionism reach its lowest ebb.
“People will also recall that David Trimble is now a Tory peer, having abandoned his former party once he led it to electoral destruction.”
She added, the inclusion of Mr Peel would “cause disquiet to those within the unionist community who are involved in the Loyal Orders”, because of comments he made last year comparing the Orange Order to “a backward-facing, history obsessed, parish pump” society.
Ms McIlveen said only Owen Paterson “lent some credence to this project” but the UUP was simply becoming the Ulster Tories.