Belfast Telegraph

Voices of reason drowned out by the sound of gunfire

The PUP was meant to give the UVF ‘political analysis’. If that is ignored, what’s the point, asks Alan Murray

Progressive Unionist Party member Ken Wilkinson said at the weekend: "People cannot be left without a voice." He was referring to members of the UVF and the Red Hand Commando (RHC).

Many might say that the sound that UVF and RHC members prefer is the one that comes out of the barrel of a gun and may legitimately ask what is the point of the PUP giving "political analysis" - to quote Mr Wilkinson - when it is ignored.

Approaching a fortnight after the UVF's brutal slaying of Bobby Moffett, the shock and outrage at his murder hasn't gone away. A rally is scheduled for this weekend to convey again to the leadership of the UVF that what it sanctioned to settle a personal dispute is absolutely unacceptable.

To Dawn Purvis, it proved both unacceptable and the last straw in her strained relationship with the UVF. We don't know what Ms Purvis said in the aftermath of the previous 28 or 29 killings perpetrated by the UVF, or what her predecessor David Ervine said to the organisation in his era of leadership.

But whatever it was, it obviously had little lasting impact on those to whom it was offered. Is there any point in the PUP if the "political analysis" it offers is discarded like fish supper wrappings on a Saturday night.

To be fair to David Ervine, Billy Hutchinson and their mentor Gusty Spence, they did bring along with them to the arena of politics a number of people associated with the Ulster Volunteer Force.

Among them were many pivotal individuals who played key roles in the terrorism perpetrated by that organisation and the Red Hand Commando. How many went along for the ride and how many genuinely bought into the political project is what the public is now asking.

As the number of murdered UVF victims has accumulated over the last one-and-a-half decades, it's clear that many in the organisation didn't swallow the Ervine, Hutchinson and Spence analysis.

There remain, evidently, on the Shankill Road and beyond, characters at the heart of the UVF who today think no differently about solving problems than they did before the organisation's 1994 ceasefire - characters who think nothing of blasting their fellow paramilitary and non-paramilitary foes to pieces and wrecking the homes of their close relatives.

The PUP can endure, with or without tacit support from the UVF, but who would it actually represent? Some have suggested that it can have a purpose galvanising the working-class Protestant/Unionist proletariat into a mini socialist party to represent their economic interests. That supposedly was what it was created to do, along with the Ulster Political Research Group and its predecessor the UDP, which was born out of the UDA structure.

The difficulty is that the unionist community generally doesn't favour political parties with direct paramilitary links - it doesn't trust them and it doesn't like them because frequently they bring the guns out and do what was done to Bobby Moffett.

And, in the current economic climate, one that will last for probably a decade, little dividend will be secured by beating the drum for more public funds to be devoted to impoverished working-class unionist - or, for that matter, nationalist - areas because the money isn't going to be available. It might be more productive to promote the area as an enterprise zone to attract entrepreneurs; where a PUP divorced from a still-murderous UVF can play a role to stimulate ideas and bring them to development bodies.

As a political party it has limited, if any, constitutional role and while some say it represents the 'Protestant working class', it hasn't done that. It has failed to stop the UVF's violence against that community, so is there any point in retaining links that could bring to the PUP an equal measure of disdain? There may continue to be a minor role for the PUP, but if Dawn Purvis loses her Assembly seat next year, the Ervine/Hutchinson/Spence project will surely be beyond salvation.

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