The challenge loyalism faces is within its ranks
In the wake of the worst rioting in Belfast for many years, the UVF complains that it is unrepresented. 'Unrepresentable' would be closer to the truth. Brian Rowan reports
At the time of David Ervine's death in 2007, a prominent Shankill loyalist spoke to a member of the family about the funeral. He had a concern and wanted to make sure the coffin was not carried - to use his words - by a drug-dealer.
The family was confused by the approach, but it was clear that the Shankill loyalist knew something they didn't. So what was he talking about? And who was he talking about?
Clearly, it was a UVF leader in east Belfast and probably the same UVF leader now under a spotlight after the orchestrated assault on the nationalist Short Strand last week.
But, in recent days, the prominent Shankill loyalist who had those concerns in 2007 has helped prop up the UVF leader in the east of the city; just one more example of the many faces of this organisation.
It says and thinks one thing one day, and does the complete opposite the next.
Last week, the UVF complaint in east Belfast was that they were 'unrepresented'; but 'unrepresentable' was the quip of someone who knows this organisation inside out.
At Stormont Castle last Thursday, Peter Robinson and DUP colleagues met the UVF; a five-member delegation - four from east Belfast and one from the Shankill.
In the crisis climate, it was a political must-do; something needed to help restore calm, but not something that should be repeated.
The next move is for the UVF - and not just the organisation in east Belfast. Its central leadership - the so-called 'command staff' based in the Shankill - has to prove itself; prove that the words of its endgame statement delivered months after David Ervine's death actually mean something.
There was no need for a dictionary to de-code what was said then; the organisation would assume a non-military, civilianised role, active service units were being de-activated, weapons put beyond reach and recruitment would cease.
But measure those words against the actions of the UVF last week. Has anyone heard the central leadership condemn what happened in the east of the city?
What about those war murals recently pained on the Newtownards Road? What message do they send out?
Why does the UVF not have a political representative at Stormont? And why, 17 years after the ceasefire of 1994, is it still talking to itself about its future role?
It is because it has nowhere to go; it is not representative of its community and, as an organisation, it has become 'unrepresentable'.
In a BBC interview last Sunday, PUP councillor John Kyle struggled for words. He won't try to explain what happened last week; it can't be explained.
And the time has long passed when Dr Kyle should step outside the UVF-linked PUP and represent his constituents as an independent. He should leave the answers to last week to those who made the mess and to those on the Shankill who acquiesced in what happened.
John Kyle wants to represent the people of east Belfast who have genuine grievances and who feel the peace process has passed them by. The UVF wants to exploit those grievances for self-interest and self-gain. On Monday of last week, I was in a room when UDA leader Jackie McDonald thanked police chiefs Sir Hugh Orde and Matt Baggott, Sinn Fein's Mitchell McLaughlin and Kate Turner of the Healing Through Remembering project for agreeing to sit on a panel with him.
It was a private conference hosted a mile or so from Short Strand to discuss the questions of the past and the processes that might help answer some of the many questions.
McDonald felt the invitation to him and his presence meant his community was being recognised and included.
There were other senior loyalists in the room: the Red Hand Commando leader Winston 'Winkie' Rea and William 'Plum' Smith, who chaired that ceasefire news conference in 1994. And, sitting close to them, former UVF prisoners Alistair Little, Tom Roberts and Robert Campbell.
The UDA 'brigadier' in north Belfast, John Bunting, was there; so, too, was 'Twister' McQuiston from the Shankill and Dawn Purvis, the former Stormont MLA who walked away from the PUP a year ago when the UVF murdered ex-prisoner Bobby Moffett.
Loyalists are not being excluded from the big conversations that matter.
They were in that room with Lord Eames and Denis Bradley, with senior and significant republicans, with representatives of victims' groups and with ex-RUC officers talking about the unfinished business of the peace process.
And then they stepped out of the room and into the news of what was happening in east Belfast - a stone's throw from a meeting that was discussing arguably the most difficult issue still to be addressed.
There are many loyalists who want the peace process to work and there are those who don't. There are many members of the UVF who want the peace process to work and there are those who don't.
And the challenge for loyalism - for the broad loyalist community - is for those who are serious to create a gap and to distance themselves from those who are not.
It is understandable that some people, particularly in east Belfast, are too frightened to say what they really think. They want others to say it for them.
And they don't want the madness of that attack a week ago to be rewarded in any way.