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UVF posturing to blame for collapse of political loyalism

The meeting was on the Newtownards Road in east Belfast, not far from where the UVF has been advertising its continuing presence in new murals — in paintings of men in balaclavas and carrying guns.

It was this time last year that this organisation sparked a crisis within political loyalism and it was in this week last year that Dawn Purvis resigned her membership and leadership of the Progressive Unionist Party.

The PUP has political links to both the UVF and associated Red Hand Commando and often — too often — it is the political loyalists who are left to answer for the violent actions of paramilitary loyalists; of those who do what they do and then hide in their corners.

This time a year ago, the crisis was over the murder of Bobby Moffett on the Shankill Road. The UVF shot dead the former prisoner, not to defend Ulster, but to defend themselves from someone who had become too big a problem for them; from someone big enough to challenge the UVF leadership.

That killing was another example of how paramilitary loyalists don’t think beyond their own personal and selfish needs and don’t think about the political implications of their actions.

This time a year ago, Dawn Purvis was a member of the Assembly and loyalism had a representative at the heart of politics here, representation that dates back to the first elections after the Good Friday Agreement, when David Ervine and Billy Hutchinson won seats.

But, now, that line has been broken. And, this is what the meeting on the Newtownards Road on Monday was about: “a reflection after the elections,” to quote the words of new PUP leader Brian Ervine.

He was talking about the May Assembly and council elections, but did not want to talk in any detail. “I would prefer not to, thank you very much indeed,” was all he had to say.

The PUP and Brian Ervine are bound to be hurting. The May elections are the first time since the Good Friday Agreement that the PUP has failed to win a seat in the Assembly.

There was a wide choice for the unionist voter in East Belfast and the 1,702 first preference votes for Dawn Purvis, standing as an Independent, and 1,493 for Brian Ervine, meant neither was elected.

So the thinking now is about the future — the place of the PUP in politics here — and what is its role.

“There were no hard and fast decisions taken,” a source said of Monday’s meeting. The meeting was, according to the source, about “letting people speak”.

There were “no big decisions”, but he expects another meeting about the future.

The UVF needs a meeting and a conversation as well; a meeting to discuss its part in what happened and didn’t happen in those recent elections.

It has been making all sorts of promises since the Moffett killing, more promises about ‘civilianisation’ and leaving the stage; promises and words contradicted by those paintings on the wall in the east of the city and by other actions.

A split-vote, the number of candidates standing, a lack of resources, all of those things will have played a part in that failure by the PUP to win a Stormont seat.

But if people don’t believe the UVF played a part in the fall of political loyalism, then they are fooling themselves, but no-one else.

There is no place for political loyalism at the heart of politics here while organisations such as the UVF continue to walk the stage and advertise their presence in the type of murals that have been painted in the east of the city.

So, it is not just the PUP that needs to be talking about the future, it is the UVF also.

The leaders of that organisation weren’t at Monday’s meeting. As usual, they have left the mess for others to fix.

Belfast Telegraph

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