A long slow slide to unionist re-alignment…

Reg Empey in today’s Irish News (subs needed):

Challenging Ian Paisley on the Third Force and Ulster Resistance groups, he speaks of leading DUP figures “wearing paramilitary head dress”. “It is no secret. I believe Ian Paisley has a very large responsibility for that [but] I would have to say even our own party in those days was less condemnatory than it ought to have been,” he said. “I have spoken to senior loyalists, some who are currently in the leadership, and they say to me they actually joined in response to some of that stuff in the Ulster Hall.”

That will not go down well in some quarters of his own party.

The Unionist militarism of the early 70’s was most clearly expressed by the Vanguard Unionist Progressive Party, of which he and David Trimble became prominent members when it was established as in 1972. Some say that its very establishment as a separate party a year later (as opposed to an umbrella organisation) came about because there were moves afoot within the UUP to expell them.

Some, like Martin Smyth, stayed within the UUP and resigned from Vanguard. Empey, Trimble and its then figurehead, William Craig left the UUP and set up Vanguard as a separate political party.

Clearly the departure of Peter Bowles (someone who former chair of the Young Unionists, Pakman regards as “one its’ more able members”) for the Conservative Party is an indication that Empey’s move is further hollowing out the core of the party, rather than stopping the long term rot.

Internal party estimates over the loss of seats were not optimistic before the co-option of Ervine. They are unlikely to have improved since. Each passing ‘defeat’ or defection must weigh all the more heavily on their shrinking share of the electorate. It has had a cost for the PUP leader too, in the sense that a man who has been noted for his eloquent support of the peace process and sustainable reconciliation is only being asked about one thing: when is the UVF going to follow the IRA and decommission its weapons?

The Empey interview is available here in full, for those of us who have an Irish News subscription.

Meanwhile the Irish News carries another report of an attack (subs needed), thought to be by the UVF on Raymond McCord’s cousin Robert:

Robert McCord (52) was attacked at a flat in the Rathcoole estate in Newtownabbey, where Raymond McCord, whose son Raymond jnr was murdered by a UVF gang in 1997, used to live. It was reported that on Monday evening a UVF gang from Mount Vernon kicked Mr McCord’s door in and demanded to know if he knew where his cousin was living.

The UVF seems to be making it clear it does not regard any deal between Ervine and Empey as binding on it. If it does move before November, the UUP will struggle, after sustaining small but consistent damage to its political capital, to claim any ownership of a positive move by that organisation.

In the meantime, regardless of the accusations about events in the early to mid eighties, the DUP seem well positioned to manage that much talked about re-alignment of Unionism, this time almost entirely under the aegis of its own political banner.

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