PUP to debate cutting paramilitary ties this evening (Update – and didn’t)

PUP interim leader, Dr John KyleIn today’s Belfast Telegraph, Brian Rowen previews tonight’s meeting of the PUP.

Dawn Purvis resigned as leader and member of the PUP in the immediate aftermath of Shankill loyalist Bobby Moffett’s murder in May – “a public execution sanctioned by [UVF] paramilitary leaders”.

Dr John Kyle stepped in as interim leader, a bit like a pilot with the aim of stabilising the damaged PUP aeroplane and bringing it down to land in a controlled way at the Harbour Airport, ensuring that the passengers (communities and stakeholders that the party represent) were not abandoned, and minimising the damage should the party fragment in mid-air over East Belfast.

(That analogy stretched a bit too far …)

However John Kyle is proposing a fundamental change of course tonight. Rowen reports:

Belfast councillor Dr John Kyle will tonight tell a Progressive Unionist Party meeting that its links with the UVF and Red Hand Commando are “unnecessary, inappropriate and politically damaging” …

“I’m going to argue for severing the link,” Dr Kyle told this newspaper.

“I will make the case that the continuing link with paramilitary organisations is unnecessary, inappropriate and politically damaging.

“The relationship in the past produced significant benefits to the peace process, but we are now living in a new era.”

Brian Ervine at October 2009 PUP conferenceBrian Ervine (brother of David Ervine) is likely to put his name forward for selection as PUP leader at their closed party conference in mid-October when John Kyle stands down. Last October, Brian unsuccessfully challenged the PUP’s distinctive pro-choice policy with a motion proposing that “the present policy to agitate for the introduction of the 1967 Abortion Act into Northern Ireland is spiritually, morally and politically harmful to the PUP”.

Update – They didn’t cut links – a significant majority of the fifty or so party members attending voted to keep the links in place. After the meeting, standing alongside Brian Ervine, chairman Brian Lacey and councillor Ken Wilkinson “in a show of unity”, interim leader John Kyle outlined the PUP’s position and read an agreed statement to media:

After much debate and open conversation the membership decided to maintain the link with the UVF and Red Hand Commando. The PUP was founded upon the core principles of social justice and conflict transformation.

It has been a vehicle for loyalists to actively partake in the political process, we remain committed to giving a voice to working class loyalists throughout Northern Ireland.

We are focused on helping society move beyond violence and sectarianism, to quote David Ervine to creating a path out of the jungle.

Speaking to the Newsletter, John Kyle (who is not standing in the leadership election at the party’s conference in October) explained that his continued presence in the party is not guaranteed:

I have not given any indication about my membership [of the party] which remains under consideration.

The Newsletter published a correction on Saturday 2 October stating that Ken Wilkinson was not a councillor after all.