Back in March the print edition of searchlight reported that Loyalist terror group the UVF was to disband. This month’s edition reports that full disbandment of the UVF seems unlikely, and will certainly not happen before the 24th November deadline for the restoration of power sharing in Stormont.
Earlier this year the UVF were ruled to be in breach of its ceasefire under the Good Friday Agreement, and as recently as the end of May, former North Belfast leader of the UVF, Mark Hancock was shot eight times by the UVF as an internal disciplinary matter. He is a confessed Special branch informer.
So where does this continued violence by the UVF leave the Progressive Unionist Party? The strategic direction of the PUP has been towards community politics, and the PUP has spoken up against racism, and in favour of gay rights, it is oppposed to PFI privatisation. It is worth reading their manifesto..
The last annual conference of the PUP voted to continue the “special relationship” with the UVF. Yet Dawn Purvis, chairperson of the PUP and a researcher at the University of Ulster, has been appointed to the Northern Ireland Policing Board. Even more remarkably, personable PUP leader David Ervine has been invited to join the mainstream Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) group in the reconvened Northern Ireland Assembly. This all seems a bit of a wheeze by UUP leader Sir Reg Empey to gain an extra ministerial post at the expense of Sinn Fein, and ensure a unionist majority in any devolved government. Nevertheless, it has caused all sorts of problem for the UUP, with defections to David Cameron’s Conservative party, including a Down District Councillor, and mutterings against the deal from the UUP’s only MP, Lady Sylvia Hermon.
It is clear what the UUP have to gain, especially as a link up with the PUP gives them a little charisma of menace compared to their bigoted rivals in Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party.
But David Ervine? The PUP are neither fish nor fowl, but there was a bizarre logic in their attempt to articulate the interests of working class people within the framework of wanting the six counties to stay part of the UK. They made great play of the fact that the official unionist parties, the UUP and DUP were all rotary club members in sheep skin coats: Tories in sashes and bowler hats.
I can just about understand why Ervine maintains the link with the UVF, in an attempt to bring the Loyalists in from the cold as part of an inclusive peace process. As the PUP manifesto describes the process: "If we are to achieve a fully functioning devolved democracy all parties will have to embrace the process of transformation. We advocate transformation rather than resolution, as unionism and nationalism are diametrically opposed political philosophies. The manner of how these competing political ideals engage can be transformed to a non-violent one."
But why oh why would Ervine sit with the Tories? It is pure sectarianism, in the literal sense, to keep Catholics out of the government.