The Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) has voted to keep its political links with the UVF and Red Hand Commando, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
But that decision, taken at a poorly attended party meeting in east Belfast last Thursday, may not be its last say on the matter.
One source told this newspaper the meeting was called at short notice, turnout was “limited” and “a more representative meeting” is now needed to decide on such a crucial issue.
“That (the meeting last Thursday) couldn’t be the final say on it,” the source added.
In early June the party was thrown into crisis by the resignation of its leader, Stormont MLA Dawn Purvis.
That came just days after the UVF killing of Bobby Moffett on the Shankill Road — a public execution that is to be the subject of a special report by the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC).
Others, including independent Policing Board member David Rose, are expected to follow Ms Purvis and leave the small loyalist party, but have been waiting on the outcome of a “quiet initiative” that has been playing out in the background.
A senior loyalist paramilitary leader was trying to persuade the UVF and Red Hand Commando to publicly sever links with the PUP — hoping that would pave the way for Ms Purvis’s return.
But this newspaper understands that as well as ending the political link to paramilitary groups, the Stormont politician was insisting on complete “rebranding” — meaning a new party name and identity.
If last Thursday’s vote — when a majority of those present supported a continuation of the party’s links to the UVF and associated Red Hand group — is confirmed in another meeting of the PUP, then it will prompt a bigger split within political loyalism.
“It’s all just going to split apart in the autumn,” a senior party source predicted.
The source, who asked not to be identified, added: “There’s a body of people who want to go, and I want to go with them.”
Interim party leader John Kyle declined to comment on last Thursday’s meeting.
He said: “We are continuing the process of mature and sober reflection, and we will communicate the outcome of that in due course.”
The party’s annual meeting is due in October, and if a split occurs the PUP is likely to stand a candidate against Ms Purvis in East Belfast in next year’s Assembly elections.
In the next few days, Ms Purvis will move into a new office in the constituency, putting further distance between herself and the party she once led.
Analysis: Murder sparked crisis in loyalism
This crisis within political loyalism was sparked by that public execution of Bobby Moffett — done deliberately on a busy Friday lunchtime for all to see.
It was a shooting that raised many questions about who gave the orders, who supplied the guns and where are they now.
The killing made a mockery of the UVF’s decommissioning and the claim that all weapons under its control had been put beyond use.
Dawn Purvis didn’t hang about for the outcome of the report the IMC is now preparing.
She had enough of answering for the actions of those people who hide in dark corners.
Winston ‘Winkie’ Rea — the son-in-law of veteran loyalist Gusty Spence and leader of the Red Hand Commando — moved in the background to try to save political loyalism.
He thought the UVF and RHC should take an initiative and publicly break the link with the PUP.
As yet, no such statement has been forthcoming and a majority of those who attended last Thursday’s PUP meeting voted to keep things as they are.
So, there are now big decisions to be made inside the PUP, the UVF and Red Hand Commando.
The price of keeping those ties will be yet more resignations and an even bigger |split.