'Unhappy' Hermon skips conference

THE Ulster Unionists' sole MP has said she refused to attend her party's conference in protest at the UUP's alliance with the Conservatives.

Professing herself "deeply unhappy" at the Tory link, Lady Hermon, whose absence at Saturday's Europa Hotel gathering was remarked upon by many, told the News Letter that she "could not go along and pretend to endorse" the new arrangement.

Amid mounting speculation that the party and its MP could part company before next year's General Election, Ian Parsley, a potential candidate in North Down, attended the conference, even though he is not a UUP member.

The Alliance defector has been selected by the Tories as a potential Conservatives and Unionists candidate for the seat but the UUP has not begun its selection process to choose a candidate who will battle with Mr Parsley for the nomination.

On Saturday many party members played down the North Down MP's absence, pointing out that she rarely attends the annual conference.

But, explaining her absence, Lady Hermon said: "I've been made deeply unhappy by my party's decision to align itself with the Tories.

"It was a decision made without any prior consultation with me. My views about it are already well known.

"Whilst I am truly sorry to have missed seeing many of my Ulster Unionist friends at yesterday's conference, I simply couldn't go along and pretend to endorse the New Force arrangements."

During his speech at Saturday's conference, Sir Reg paid tribute to Lady Hermon's work as the party's sole MP: "I wish to thank all our public representatives; Lady Hermon MP and her colleagues in the Upper House who keep the Ulster Unionist flag flying in Parliament..."

Although there has been speculation that the Alliance Party may stand aside in North Down if Lady Hermon runs as an independent, her clear unionist position may make that difficult, as would losing momentum before Assembly and council elections the following year.

In the build-up to the European election, tensions between Sir Reg and Lady Hermon boiled over when the MP publicly made clear her dissatisfaction with the Tory link and Sir Reg hit back at her for giving interviews during an election campaign "challenging party policy and the collective decisions taken by her colleagues".

An Ulster Unionist spokeswoman declined to respond to Lady Hermon's comments.