PUP, anti-sectarianism and the UVF…

Fortnight magazine this month features a piece called Loyalist Crossroads by Aaron Edwards and Stephen Bloomer. It’s a joint article based on their research paper, Democratising the Peace in Northern Ireland: Progressive Loyalists and the Politics of Conflict Transformation. It’s dated November 2005. You can find the full copy here. It’s lengthy and detailed. But given the controversy around David Ervine’s joining of the UUP, there are a few bits worth highlighting:Firstly his and his party’s anti sectarianist stance:

During the 1990s the words ‘Committed to a Democratic, Non-Sectarian, Pluralist Society’ were to be found adorning official PUP documents. Later this slogan was to be altered slightly to incorporate the term ‘anti-sectarian’ because it was thought that to be ‘non-sectarian’ meant that you did little to tackle the rot of religious bigotry in Northern Ireland’s ‘abnormal society’.6 The PUP’s disdain for sectarian politics has a long lineage. It was initially fostered by those who had been incarcerated in Long Kesh in the 1970s when Gusty Spence sought to equip UVF and RHC Volunteers under his command with a sophisticated array of tools to engage in political dialogue and debate with their opponents. One of those who had come under Spence’s tuition in the 1970s was David Ervine. During a debate on anti-sectarianism in the Northern Ireland Assembly in September 2002 Ervine articulated his party’s attitude to the issue of sectarianism:

There are places in Northern Ireland where there are few paramilitaries but a great deal of sectarianism. Of course, there are places where there are plenty of paramilitaries and plenty of sectarianism: it would be foolish to refute that. Our communities, which have been led by many in the Chamber, are sectarian, and one could argue that they are encouraged to be so. In many ways drawingroom sectarianism is more insidious and frightening than working-class sectarianism. At working class level it is brutal, and we see it all the time. However, we can deal with it. Many people in the Chamber come from places where drawing-room sectarianism is at its worst, and they have luxuriated and benefited as society, divided more and more, crashes on the rocks.

Ervine’s speech combines a potent mix of class consciousness with social responsibility. It was a point he had drawn upon the previous year in a lecture to the Institute of British Irish Studies at University College, Dublin, during which he likened sectarianism to a flower: ‘Here, too, sectarianism could grow. Sectarianism is a flower – a beautiful flower. It does not grow wild in a field – it is nourished. It is nourished and it is cared for; it is reproduced, generation after generation after generation’.

And on the apparent disparity between the decommissioning of IRA weapons, and the UVF’s determination to hold onto theirs:

The decommissioning of Provo weapons has failed to gain a reciprocal gesture from within the UVF and RHC camp. This will come as no surprise to those who read the UVF Brigade Staff communiqué issued through the medium of Combat magazine back in April 2001. The statement maintained that the organisation would be maintaining ‘a watching brief’ on dissident republican activity. It reiterated the point that – regardless of political developments – the organisation would not be drawn into a symmetrical process of decommissioning, despite the belief (even among many loyalists) that in the event of a ‘war is over’ statement from the Provos the loyalist campaign would cease to serve any political or military purpose. That position does not seem to have altered any great deal. In a recent interview with a leading UVF Brigade Staff Officer the issue of decommissioning was raised and the following reply was given:

Loyalism wasn’t going to jump because the Provos jumped. Loyalists didn’t see decommissioning on the radar screen. They did see an end to paramilitarism and they are (as we speak) trying to get to that point. They are not making anyone any promises. I would be quietly confident that at some juncture we can get to the point where there is no paramilitary action from the UVF.

It remains to be seen whether the PUP’s electoral compact with the UUP hastens a move to that juncture.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty