belfasttelegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

Loyalists sell political wing a PUP over killing

The UVF murdered Bobby Moffett, but the Progressive Unionist Party is left to pick up the pieces, says Brian Rowan

When it reported last week, the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) could not have been any more clear in its assessment of the murder of Bobby Moffett.

The killing was a “public execution” that had the sanction of UVF leaders.

And the shooting raised |questions about the endgame and decommissioning statements made by the UVF in 2007 and 2009.

Indeed, there are those who want Secretary of State Owen Paterson to ‘specify’ the loyalist group — a move that would mean its ceasefire is no longer recognised.

In the months since the Moffett murder, the spotlight has not |just been on the UVF, but the politically-linked Progressive Unionist Party.

Its leader, Dawn Purvis, resigned — so, too, have Policing Board member David Rose and press officer and party executive member Stewart Finn.

Soon, the party will meet behind closed doors to debate that political link it has to the UVF and Red Hand Commando, and next month it holds its annual conference.

That is when a new leader will be elected.

Brian Ervine — brother of the late David Ervine — has told this newspaper that he is considering stepping forward.

He has also described what the party’s political link to the UVF and Red Hand Commando should and should not mean.

In his words, it does not mean “condoning criminality, gangsterism or murder”, but trying to create a path away from that paramilitary world into politics and peace.

The UVF is going to have to prove it is capable of following that route; capable of the next steps, capable of living in the peace without its guns and the threat of its muscle.

And while it is still out there, political loyalism will always be looking over its shoulder.

When UVF leaders ordered that Shankill killing and sent gunmen out to fire bullets into Bobby Moffett, they ignored the obvious political consequences. And they left the PUP with the mess.

This time it was Dawn Purvis who was expected to answer the questions, previously it has been David Ervine, and, in the future, it could be his brother Brian.

Yet the questions are really for someone else. The killers had clearance from within what the UVF calls its ‘command staff’. And this is where the questions should be answered.

Of course, they won’t be. Those who know about the killing, and about the guns, have gone back into their hidden corners. In a small meeting that followed the Moffett killing and Purvis resignation, a majority of PUP members voted to maintain that political link to the UVF and Red Hand Commando.

But it is going to be discussed again — in a larger gathering due within days.

The decision of that meeting will determine who else leaves the PUP and who stays.

In the debate, there are things worth remembering. It was the UVF that said it was moving to a “non-military, civilianised role”.

That was in 2007. Last year it claimed that all arms under its control had been put beyond use. The Moffett killing undermined both statements.

So, in terms of the link, it should no longer be about people trying to persuade the UVF down a political path, but about the UVF persuading others that is the walk it wants to take.

In the days and weeks ahead, the focus will be on the PUP and its new leader. It should be elsewhere.

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