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Loyalists need to step out from shadow of the UVF

In 1994 something different began to happen within loyalism. It was more than the ceasefire announced under the umbrella of a Combined Loyalist Military Command (CLMC).

There was something else; a new confidence alongside new faces and voices.

David Ervine, Gary McMichael, Davy Adams and William Smith began to speak for loyalism, had the confidence to say what they thought, and they were being guided and coached through that period by others, including the veteran loyalist Gusty Spence.

There was a political project within which there were possibilities.

But those possibilities have been blown away through the infighting that has been a huge part of the loyalist story, and in the inability of paramilitary organisations to leave the stage in a way that is both convincing and credible.

Seventeen years after the ceasefires, 13 years after the Good Friday Agreement, the UVF is still talking to itself about how it achieves the positions it has publicly articulated; how it moves into that "non-military, civilianised, role" it promised as far back as 2007.

Its on-the-ground actions continue to contradict the promised rebranding. On the walls of the loyalist community, the organisation still wants and needs to paint men with balaclavas and guns; reminders of the 'war'.

And they still prowl the streets of those communities.

It happened on the Shankill Road recently after the stabbing of one of its most senior leaders Harry Stockman.

The UVF put its men on the road - a demonstration of muscle and threat, a demonstration of who is in charge.

This is an organisation that speaks of the need to "reconnect" with the community, but, in its actions, continues to disconnect and distance itself from the people.

David Ervine, who died suddenly in 2007, was once part of the UVF and became leader of the politically-linked Progressive Unionist Party (PUP).

He was one of those who began to make a real difference, and when he died Dawn Purvis replaced him at Stormont and as leader of the party.

A year ago - after the UVF murdered former prisoner Bobby Moffett on the Shankill Road - she left the PUP.

She was left with no choice.

In that killing, almost a year ago, the UVF reduced its endgame and decommissioning statements to nonsense.

It killed Bobby Moffett, and it destroyed the PUP. It now has just two councillors in Belfast, Dr John Kyle and Hugh Smyth.

In the Stormont elections last week Dawn Purvis stood as an independent and David Ervine's brother, Brian, stood for the Progressive Unionist Party.

Neither was elected.

It is in the nature of the UVF to look to blame someone else, but what it really needs to do is look in the mirror, and look at itself.

There it will find the reasons and answers for the collapse of the loyalist political project, the latest crumbling in the counting of the votes in recent days.

And it will see itself in the story of what and all that has gone wrong.

Some of those who were in the most senior positions of leadership in the IRA were successful in the recent elections north and south of the border.

Sinn Fein has a growing and significant political mandate, the support of hundreds of thousands of people.

Where is the UVF mandate?

Why do its leaders hide at election time?

Is it a fear of the truth - knowing that without muscle and numbers and threat they have no place and no status in their communities?

Is it because they know the privacy of the ballot box is the people's revenge - a place where they can vote for someone else and something else?

The writing is on the wall as large as any of those images of men in balaclavas and carrying guns.

The war is over, and there is no reason or justification, even in its own terms, for the UVF still to be on the stage.

And until it goes away, and unless it goes away, loyalists will continue to struggle to find a place in politics.