Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Politicians can learn from David Ervine's legacy

David Ervine
David Ervine

Editor's Viewpoint

The untimely death of PUP leader David Ervine at the age of 53 in 2007 robbed Northern Ireland of one of the most able politicians of his generation.

He was a former UVF prisoner who combined a rare political acuity with a streetwise ability far removed from many of his contemporaries.

It is no exaggeration to declare that the void his death left in working-class politics has still to be filled over 12 years later.

Mr Ervine's widow Jeanette has now called on Northern Ireland's politicians to follow in his footsteps and to work to find solutions to the problems that confront us on all sides.

She was speaking some 25 years after the republican and loyalist ceasefires that helped to pave the way for the Good Friday Agreement and the power-sharing Executive that brought so much hope on that bright new dawn, which has since clouded over.

Mr Ervine was a significant influence on the decision of the Combined Loyalist Military Command to call a ceasefire on October 13, 1994, just seven weeks after a similar announcement from the Provisional IRA.

The loyalist announcement was read by Ervine's political mentor and friend Gusty Spence.

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Mrs Ervine says she can see parallels between the tortuous negotiations that led to the ceasefires and what needs to be done today to revive our paralysed political institutions.

More controversially, perhaps, she has questioned whether pursuing Troubles-era investigations was the correct policy. Nevertheless, her historical recall cannot be faulted.

She underlined that the Good Friday Agreement led to prisoner release, but added "there wasn't a clause to say that when they are 60 or 70 we're going to come back and convict them".

Many people, including the silent majority who never belonged to a paramilitary organisation, had to swallow hard to accept the reality of prisoner releases.

Without them there would have been no Good Friday Agreement.

Some 25 years later armed republicanism still poses a threat from unrepresentative micro-groups.

Meanwhile the UVF, which has strong connections with the PUP, remains in existence as a scourge on working-class unionists while cynically claiming to be their protector.

Mrs Ervine is correct in saying that today's politicians must discover the need for compromise, so well-understood by her husband's contemporaries.

As Ervine himself said over 25 years ago: "The politics of division saw thousands of people dead - most of them working class - and headstones on the graves of the young. We have been fools; let us not be fools any longer."

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