PUP conference preview

On Saturday, the Progressive Unionist Party will hold their annual conference. It’s been a year of change for the PUP.

In the May elections, neither the PUP’s leader Brian Ervine nor independent Dawn Purvis won a seat in the Assembly. Instead the East Belfast loyalist mantle seemed to pass across to Sammy Douglas, who had been approached by and agreed to stand for the DUP.

In the local government election, both PUP councillors retained their seats with John Kyle in Pottinger and Hugh Smyth in Court district.

As well as being the longest serving Belfast councillor (38 years), Smyth took over the as PUP leader (for a second stint) when Brian Ervine stood down in June so that he could return to work after his leave of absence.

The PUP’s long-standing link with the UVF was brought back into focus in the early summer when tensions were raised and violence flared in East Belfast around the Short Strand/Albertbridge Road/Newtownards Road interfaces. The PSNI said the trouble was orchestrated by the UVF loyalist paramilitary group.

Only this week, PUP member Ken Wilkinson at the PUP conference. Back in 2009, Dawn Purvis called on the DUP and Sinn Fein to “move away from the politics of fear” and “wake up to sectarianism” before Denis Bradley addressed the conference.

At tomorrow’s low-key conference, the PUP’s leadership is expected to change again, with Billy Hutchinson poised to take over the party. (Update – he was unopposed as the new leader.) An ex-UVF member, convicted for his part in the killing of two Catholics in 1974, he became a prison associate of the recently deceased Gusty Spence, a spokesperson for the PUP during the Good Friday Agreement negotiations, MLA (1998-2003) and Belfast City councillor (1997-2005).