Progressive Unionist Party boss David Ervine died
in an intensive care ward of Belfasts Royal
Victoria Hospital after suffering a heart attack,
stroke and brain haemorrhage, many nationalists
and republicans were praying and lighting candles
his legacy would be that loyalist death squads
would never return to terrorism.
53-year-old working class, self-educated from
the heartland of Protestantisms east Belfast
had earned himself a reputation of becoming nationalisms
most lovable loyalist.
even if the PUP chief had lived, he still faced
a major hill to climb in the eyes of republicans
to persuade the mainstream loyalist death
squads to follow the example of the Provos and
decommission their arsenals of sectarian hatred.
as a supporter of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement
which saw him elected as an Assembly member
for East Belfast in the same year Ervine
had almost as many critics within Unionism as
he does within republicanism.
Progressive Unionists are viewed as the political
wing of the banned loyalist terror gangs, the
Ulster Volunteer Force and Red Hand Commando.
major problem for Ervine in nationalist eyes was
that while he was never convicted of murdering
a Catholic, the paramilitary groups his party
speaks for have been responsible for some of the
worst sectarian carnage on the island, north and
south, since the Troubles erupted in the late
was this baggage of bloodshed which made him a
figure of hate at times in both Catholicism and
in working class Belfast in 1953, he left Orangefield
Boys Secondary School at 15 with few formal
after witnessing the carnage caused by the Provos
July 1972 Bloody Friday bomb blitz in Belfast,
he joined the UVF at the age of 19.
in 1974, he was arrested and found guilty on a
charge of possessing explosives and served six
years in the Maze before being released in 1980.
He had been caught driving a car bomb to its alleged
target of a pub frequented by Catholics.
he succeeded in his terror mission, his act could
have been as bloody as the carnage caused on Bloody
Friday when nine people died in just over an hour
as 21 IRA bombs exploded one after the other.
it was during his time in prison he fell under
the influence of then UVF icon Gusty Spence, viewed
as one of the founders of the modern-day terror
gang in the mid 1960s.
became convinced loyalists needed to develop a
political strategy one which would take
the Protestant working class away from the use
Unionism, supporters viewed his brand of loyalism
as Left-wing wing socialism. Opponents within
fundamentalist Protestantism tried to dismiss
his politics as Marxist or communist, branding
the PUP as a Shankill Soviet.
Sinn Fein within the republican community, Ervine
always faced the difficulty that the PUP is a
fringe movement within Unionism.
entered politics in 1985 as a PUP council candidate,
but his big break-through came in 1998 when he
won an Assembly seat in the same constituency
as DUP deputy boss Peter Robinson and Ulster Unionist
chief Reg Empey.
nationalists, his single biggest achievement was
his key role in bringing about the October 1994
loyalist ceasefire called by the Combined Loyalist
his media profile, which earned him a nickname
of Dictionary Dave because of his eloquent use
of the English language, was far in access of
his partys electoral support.
he regained his health in time for the 7 March
Assembly elections, he would have faced an even
harder battle to retain his East Belfast seat,
being eyed by both the DUP and UUP.
also had a Belfast City Council seat, which he
first won in May 1997, a year after winning a
seat on the Northern Ireland Forum the
forerunner of the Stormont Assembly.
standing within the Catholic community probably
peaked in 2001 when at a British Labour Party
meeting, the then Northern Secretary the Celtic-supporting
Catholic John Reid, described him as possibly
one of the most eloquent politicians in Northern
in spite of this accolade and high media presence,
Ervine was still regarded with suspicion within
nationalism and republicanism.
he died, Ervine had still not persuaded the UVF
and RHC to either decommission or disband. On
the wider loyalist paramilitary front, he seemed
powerless to prevent loyalism from descending
into a bloody turf war over drugs and criminality.
blow came in May 2005 when the Independent Monitoring
Commission recommended a continuation of the cash
sanctions on his Assembly salary imposed following
its report of April 2004.
IMC opinion was that the UVF and PUP maintained
strong links while the UVF was heavily involved
concluded that 12 months after the sanctions were
originally imposed, the PUP leadership
which he took over in 2002 - was still not doing
enough to address the UVFs criminal activities.
the past, he was high on the Provos death
list and had to move home on a number of occasions.
just how far he had come in his political journey
was pointedly set out in veteran journalist Peter
Taylors BBC documentary, Loyalists, which
was broadcast in 1999.
about his terrorist past, Ervine was asked: Were
you prepared to kill? He replied: Without
totally. My decision and made
by me and me alone.
received another political blow last year when
he attempted to formally join the Ulster Unionist
Assembly group. In September, after seeking legal
advice, Speaker Eileen Bell of Alliance said the
move was invalid.
in spite of his failings in getting loyalist terror
gangs to at least decommission, many in the nationalist
community will view Ervines demise
both physically and politically as a serious
blow to keeping hardline loyalism in the political