Decisive day as loyalist politics hits a defining crossroads
The future of political loyalism could be shaped in crunch meetings over the next 24 hours as the Progressive Unionist Party considers its next steps after the shock resignation of its leader — Stormont MLA Dawn Purvis.
Her decision to resign both her membership and leadership of the party came just days after the UVF murdered Shankill loyalist Bobby Moffett — a one-time member of the Red Hand Commando.
The PUP has political links to both paramilitary groups.
Tonight, in a Belfast hotel, the party will hold an Extraordinary General Meeting, with the East Belfast constituency group due to meet tomorrow.
Some senior figures, including interim party leader Dr John Kyle, had hoped to manage the fallout on a “three-four month timeline” before putting options to the membership.
But many now accept this may not be possible.
Speaking ahead of this evening’s meeting, one source said he thought it could be “fairly angry”.
The choices facing party members are to remain within the PUP or to resign and join Ms Purvis in some new political structure.
Party sources believe some will push tonight for an early statement affirming the political link to the UVF and Red Hand Commando.
Indeed, one senior member predicted “a full scale assault to take over the party”.
Information has emerged of at least one huddle ahead of tonight’s meeting, with some expecting a push to try to get Ms Purvis to resign her Assembly seat.
She has already made clear her intention to continue as an independent MLA and has the backing of the PUP executive.
The backdrop to tonight’s meeting is community anger after the UVF murder of Mr Moffett.
“There’s a feeling of total disgust,” a senior paramilitary figure told this newspaper.
“Fair play to her,” the source continued.
“It was a particularly brave thing to do.
“People owe it to David Ervine to save the PUP but totally separate from the UVF,” he said.
Mr Ervine’s widow Jeanette has already backed Ms Purvis’ decision to go.
Others are expected to join her — the question not if, but when.
“I would struggle to stay that long,” one senior party member said — a reference to the planned three or four month timeline some had hoped would be possible.
“This is not just about the Moffett murder. This is cumulative,” he said.
A clearer picture of the party mood should emerge over the next 24 hours.