ULSTER Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt has appointed one of his predecessors, Lord Empey, as UUP chairman.
Mr Nesbitt appointed the former Stormont minister to take over from David Campbell, who held the post for seven years, under new rules brought in just months ago which allow the leader to appoint the chairman.
Historically, the UUP chairman has been elected by the party membership.
Lord Empey’s position will be highly unusual if the Conservative Party stands candidates against the UUP in forthcoming elections.
Although he sits with cross-bench peers in the House of Lords, Lord Empey takes the Conservative Whip and attends Tory meetings in Westminster, although unlike Lord Trimble he remains an Ulster Unionist member.
Mr Nesbitt has also appointed his immediate predecessor, Tom Elliott, as one of six party officers and re-appointed the man who Mr Nesbitt replaced as UCUNF candidate when he first stood for the party, Newtownards councillor Philip Smyth.
Mr Nesbitt has also re-appointed Newtownabbey businessman and councillor Mark Cosgrove as party treasurer.
Former RUC officer and the Ireland bowls team’s manager Roy McCune was elected vice chairman on the day when Mr Nesbitt was elected leader.
The elected party officers are former MLA Fred Cobain, Armagh councillor Joy Rollston and Co Antrim teacher Catherine Simpson.
Mr Nesbitt said: “The Ulster Unionist Party officer team will help me provide leadership and direction for the party over the next number of years.
“Looking at the team we now have in place I am confident that they are the best people for the job and I look forward to working with them.
“I am delighted Lord Empey has accepted the role of party chairman. As a former party leader and long-standing member he has plenty of experience in leadership and is well respected by the membership.
“I am also pleased that Tom Elliott has agreed to take up the role of a party officer. Tom has a lot to offer the Ulster Unionist Party and I know that his guidance will be valued not only by me but also by the rest of the party officers.
“Tom has built on the organisational changes initiated by Lord Empey and which I intend to enhance in the days ahead.
“They also add the political input that was felt to be lacking in previous party officer teams.
“My new officer team offers a good mix of experience and new blood and I know that they all share my enthusiasm for rejuvenating and rebuilding the Ulster Unionist Party.”