Danny Kennedy appointed Ulster Unionist chairman

New UUP chairman Danny Kennedy.

Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEyeNew UUP chairman Danny Kennedy.

Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
New UUP chairman Danny Kennedy. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye | ©Philip Magowan / PressEye
Former roads minister Danny Kennedy has been appointed chairman of the Ulster Unionists following a meeting of the party’s ruling executive at the weekend.

Mr Kennedy replaces Sir Reg Empey who is standing down after seven years in the post.

The new chairman served as an MLA for Newry and Armagh before losing his seat in 2017. During his time at Stormont the life-long Ulster Unionist served as employment and learning minister as well as minister for regional development.

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In October 2018, after a year of unemployment he described as a “chastening experience,” Mr Kennedy was appointed as a welfare support officer by the Enniskillen-based Ely Centre – helping Troubles victims ensure they are receiving the benefits they are entitled to.

“I regard this as a huge personal honour and I’m delighted that the leader of the party, Steve Aiken, asked me to take on the role of chairman and that was endorsed by the party executive on Saturday,” he said.

Mr Kennedy also said it was an opportunity to “give something back to the party” and to help restore its fortunes.

“There are challenges for the Ulster Unionist Party, as indeed there are challenges for unionism, and those have to be addressed. My view is that the best way to address them is hard work from the bottom up from the grass roots...with everyone working together in a united spirit.”

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He added: “We have seen unionism suffer some very serious setbacks recently. The creation of a potential economic border down the Irish Sea has huge implications – not immediately but in the medium to longer term in terms of gravitating our economy towards not only Europe but in particular towards the Irish Republic.

“If you are a unionist then you can’t be comfortable with that.”

Commenting on whether the UUP will undergo any radial changes under his tenure as chairman, Mr Kennedy said: “I think we have to leave ourselves open to change and we have a very vibrant young unionist movement.

“We have traditionally been a party of members rather than activists and we need to change that...and we need to encourage more females to be actively involved and play an important role in elected politics.”

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Mr Kennedy also expressed his gratitude to Sir Reg Empey for his “life-long commitment” to the UUP.

“I would like to pay tribute to Reg, not only for his service as party chairman for seven years, but also for his life-long commitment to not only the party but to unionism,” he said.

“After seven years Reg thought that a change would be helpful to the party. He will continue as a party officer leading our party group in the House of Lords.”