Ulster Unionist Party Chairman
Former Leader of the UUP
Former MLA for East Belfast
Belfast, Northern Ireland
Biography: Reginald Norman Morgan Empey, Baron Empey of Shandon, OBE, known as Sir Reg Empey prior to 2011, is the current Chairman of the Ulster Unionist Party, and a former member of the Northern Ireland Assembly for East Belfast. Twice Lord Mayor of Belfast, he was elected the 13th leader of Ulster Unionist Party on 24 June 2005 before stepping down in 2010.
Born in east Belfast on 26 October 1947, Reg Empey’s family were retailers, and his uncle was a Stormont Ulster Unionist MP. Reg attended Hillcrest Preparatory School in Belfast and then The Royal School, Armagh before graduating with an economics degree from Queen’s University of Belfast. After that he built up a business career, specifically in retailing, a dangerous trade in 1970s Belfast. When his Royal Avenue store, which was opposite the Army barracks, was destroyed in an explosion, and looted, he expressed his outrage on television.
He first entered politics in the late 1960s when he joined the Ulster Young Unionist Council. Along with many other Unionists he left in protest at reforms and became an early member of the Vanguard Progressive Unionist Party, serving as the party chairman in 1975 and being elected to the Constitutional Convention in the same year.
Reg has twice served as Lord Mayor of Belfast from 1989–1990 and 1993–1994 whilst also a Councillor for the Pottinger Ward in East Belfast. He was appointed an OBE in 1994 for services to local government. During this period he built up a political base in East Belfast, and in 1996 was elected for the area to the Northern Ireland Forum and to the Northern Ireland Assembly in 1998. He was re-elected in 2003 and 2007. He ruled out a further election in 2011, as part of the Ulster Unionist’s commitment to end double-jobbing with Lord Reg’s ascendancy to the House of Lords in 2010.
When the Northern Ireland Executive was formed in 1999, Empey became Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, holding the portfolio throughout the entirety of the Executive’s existence. In June 2001 Trimble temporarily resigned as First Minister of Northern Ireland and appointed Empey to fulfil the functions of the office for the interim period until disagreements between the parties had been restored. Empey undertook the role until November of that year. In 1999, Reg Empey was created a knight bachelor by Her Majesty The Queen.
He was the Minister for Employment and Learning from 2007–10 and was a prominant voice in calling for the Treasury to compensate investors in the collapsed mutual society Presbyterian Mutual.
On 19 November 2010, it was announced that Empey would be created a life peer in the House of Lords. He took his seat as Lord Empey of Shandon, supported by Lord Trimble and Lord Rogan.
Reg was also chosen by the new Ulster Unionist Leader, Mike Nesbitt to be the Chairman of the Party, a position he accepted on the 16th April 2012.
Throughout his career, Lord Reg has been supported by his wife, Stella, who worked for many years in the charitable sector and their two children.
To contact Lord Reg Empey, please contact our UUP Advice Centre on 02890 463900.