Northern Ireland

Cut Stormont ministries, Tom Elliott tells UUP conference

UUP leader Tom Elliott told his party conference the number of Stormont departments should be reduced.

He said a cut from 12 to eight should take place during the review of the appointment of the justice minister.

"Let's cut the burden on our taxpayers, make ourselves more efficient and give the public value for their money, " Mr Elliott said.

He also paid tribute to Irish president Mary McAleese whose 14 year term in office is coming to an end.

He said that while his party and the president had different beliefs and opinions, they shared "an inherent belief in the goodness of people."

"We also have a commitment to build bridges, sturdy structures based on mutual respect and not founded on meaningless words and phrases," he added.

He criticised the DUP and Sinn Fein as a "two party carve-up for serving purely sectional interests" with no strategy for the "new Northern Ireland".

The conference was attended by Secretary of State Owen Paterson, whose Conservative Party was one-half of the ill-fated UCUNF link-up with the Tories.

'Broken record'

BBC Northern Ireland political editor Mark Devenport said it wasn't clear if the Ulster Unionists had settled on their future direction.

"One thing that he hasn't addressed at all in this speech is their relationship with the Conservative Party which has been raised by Owen Paterson coming here," our correspondent added.

"We still don't know if they are fish or fowl - have they given up on UCUNF or is there still some sort of a courtship going on with the Conservative Party?

"There's been a lot of talk about attracting the tens of thousands of unionists who have stopped voting but that's a bit of a broken record at this stage.

"I've heard that at several Ulster Unionist conferences."

Our correspondent added that Mr Elliott, whose leadership has recently been the centre of controversy, seemed safe in his post with no talk of challenges.

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