Get the UVF monkey off our backs!

Alex Kane in his Newsletter column last Saturday was clearly unhappy about the way his party had gotten itself tied into (if only by association, rather than by any executive connection) “all sorts of conspiracy theories involving spooks and ‘those who have agendas of their own'” that arguably has dragged Republican politics through the mire in the last year and a half.By Alex Kane

I was interviewed on Wednesday’s TalkBack, about the state of the UUP/PUP relationship following the shooting of Mark Haddock. Later that evening I was telephoned by one of my oldest and most trusted friends, who had this comment to make about the interview: “Alex, you didn’t sound comfortable and you didn’t sound convinced. Playing down the centre is not in your nature.” As ever, with those who have known you longest, he was absolutely right. And, as I wrote in last week’s column, the Ervine business does “unsettle” me.

I noted, too, that “the UUP’s electoral fortunes are now in the hands of some very unpleasant and equally brutal terrorists, whose ceasefire isn’t even recognised anymore.” Last week, I equivocated, and gave the UUP/PUP pact the benefit of my very serious doubts. The events of this week have confirmed those doubts and ended my equivocation. The pact is wrong and it should be terminated with immediate effect.

In some senses it doesn’t actually matter if the UVF, sanctioned or otherwise, was involved in the assassination attempt. So long as there is a formal and direct link between the UUP and the PUP, and for so long as there are assaults, shootings and assorted criminality, then for so long will the UUP be placed under the media spotlight every time there is an “incident.” Similarly, how can the UUP take a political, let alone a moral stance, on the paramilitary or criminal activities of any other organisation? The party has been left totally exposed and utterly and thoroughly compromised.

Worst of all is the fact that I have had to endure waterfalls of sanctimonious, dodging-the-issue piffle from an increasingly holier-than-thou David Ervine. It’s bad enough having to put up with this sort of pious guff when its just the PUP he’s involved with; but it has become a heartbreakingly miserable experience to realise that his torturous semantics now have a very direct impact upon the party of which I am a member.

I don’t give a damn if the UVF leadership sanctioned the Haddock attack, or if it is, as Ervine described it, the work of “opportunists.” I don’t want to listen to all sorts of conspiracy theories involving spooks and “those who have agendas of their own.” I don’t want to hang around for four months until the IMC tells me “whodunit.” I want the UVF monkey taken off the UUP’s back.

Now I know I made the point last week that the UUP had taken risks with SF/IRA, but in the case of that relationship David Trimble was able to collapse the government and the Executive when he believed the IRA wasn’t honouring its commitments. But where is the opt-out and the exit strategy in this case? At what stage does the UUP’s Assembly group decide that enough is enough? For all of his faults, when it came to the really “big” decisions (and I regard a UVF-linked frontman being given the UUP’s whip as a very “big” issue) David Trimble secured the support of the party officers, the party executive and the Ulster Unionist Council. Sir Reg doesn’t have that cover; and while it may be true that there are no signs of open rebellion at grassroots level, it is equally true that there are no sounds of joyous whooping.

I also made the point about loyalist paramilitaries that someone had to “remove the deadweight of their malign influence on housing estates and working-class areas.” That remains true, but is David Ervine’s membership of the UUP Assembly group the best way of doing it? The price of that membership, so far, has been unrelenting media pressure, a Trappist response from the grassroots and unsupportive editorials. Is he really worth it?

My conclusion now is no, he isn’t. The UUP/PUP pact is morally, electorally, strategically and politically wrong. Barring hard and immediate evidence that the UVF is announcing a ceasefire and winding down and ending its widespread racketeering, the pact should be ended and preferably before the Assembly next sits.

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