Belfast Telegraph

Sunday Life

'He articulated voice of the new voiceless'

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams' presence at the funeral of loyalist leader David Ervine was a dramatic sign of the changing times in Northern Ireland. Journalists Jim Cusack and Henry McDonald examine Ervine's remarkable transition from bomb-maker to peacemaker in this extract from the revised and updated version of their best selling book UVF: The Endgame

David Ervine was a comrade of one of the Dublin/Monaghan bombers.

His history as a bomb-maker seems incongruous with his latter image as an articulate peace-maker and compromiser in the 1990s.

When Ervine died suddenly in January 2007 he received the kind of plaudits normally reserved for an international statesman.

Thousands attended his funeral in the heart of loyalist east Belfast, both friends and former foes.

Incredibly they included Gerry Adams who hugged Ervine's widow Jeanette while flanked by "security teams" from both the Provisional IRA and Ervine's comrades in the UVF.

The gesture was yet another sure sign that the "war" in the north of Ireland was well and truly over.

Back in 1984 the UVF was lying in wait to shoot and kill the Sinn Féin President on the same day that the UDA also attempted to assassinate Adams. Twenty-three years later other UVF men were detailed to ensure Adams and his entourage's safety in east Belfast.

In life, however, David Ervine was not always the articulate, moderate voice of loyalism. Before the 1994 loyalist ceasefire Ervine was an unapologetic supporter of the UVF's murder campaign, albeit with reservations.

He met the authors shortly after the Loughinisland massacre during the 1994 World Cup to assure us that the attack was "not policy" or indeed sanctioned by the organisation's leadership.

However, he made no such apologies about a UVF attack the same month on the Widow Scallans pub in Dublin that resulted in one IRA member's death and the potential to have caused a massacre on the scale of the 1974 Dublin/Monaghan bombings.

Had the attack been successful from the UVF's viewpoint it would have killed dozens of ordinary Dubliners as well as republican supporters in the bar for a function.

Yet Ervine said the plot would have been justified. The IRA was at war and the UVF was taking their own counter-war to somewhere the Provos always regarded as a safe haven, Ervine concluded.

It is also worth remembering exactly why Ervine originally went to jail in the early 1970s. The target he was travelling to on the day he was arrested and forced by a British soldier at gunpoint to dismantle his own bomb was the UDA's then headquarters off the Newtownards Road. At one stage in his career within loyalism, David Ervine was prepared to blow up not only republicans and their supporters, but also other loyalists at war with the UVF.

Nonetheless his death was a bitter blow to the UVF and its political wing, the Progressive Unionist Party. He was all but certain to have been re-elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly in the March 2007 elections. He would have continued to shine as a parliamentary performer, articulating the voice of the new voiceless - the Protestant working class, now rapidly degenerating into an underclass.

It was some consolation to the PUP that his seat was retained by Dawn Purvis, who continues to be the sole representative of loyalism in the Assembly - a measurement if ever there was one that the overwhelming majority of unionists never supported the UVF or UDA campaigns throughout the Troubles.

Indeed, at the time of writing, other former prominent PUP and UVF figures who emerged during the peace process were marginalised.

Billy Hutchinson, for example, the former young UVF militant, life sentence prisoner and latterly PUP Assemblyman, had left the party.

Hutchinson had been angry that the UVF leadership on the Shankill Road had opted to throw its local electoral weight behind the Ulster Unionist Party rather than select Hutchinson in the Assembly elections of the early 21st century. Today Hutchinson is a community worker on the loyalist Mount Vernon estate.

? UVF: THE ENDGAME (revised and updated) by Jim Cusack and Henry McDonald, published by Poolbeg Press, price £9.99.

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