The Progressive Unionist Party
1.1 The Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) is
a democratic political party whose policies are based
on the principles of democratic socialism. It was
formed in 1977 by Independent Unionists, ex- Northern
Ireland Labour Party members and a number of ex-prisoners
associated with the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and
Red Hand Commando (RHC). The motivation behind the
formation of the PUP was the dissatisfaction with
the larger unionist parties, namely the Ulster Unionist
Party and the Democratic Unionist Party. These parties
provided little or no leadership to disadvantaged
working class unionist communities and their policies
were of no benefit. Their rhetoric was one of impending
doom, warning of dark times ahead, none of which
was said by the Loyalist paramilitary groups. The
PUP sought to articulate the views of the working
class, while at the same time, introducing policies
that improved their quality of life.
The Party Leader and Executive Council are elected
bi-annually by the membership at the Party Conference,
and are responsible for setting goals and objectives
for the party and for overseeing the work of sub-committees.
The Party Council, comprised of representatives from
each Constituency Association, meets with the Deputy
Leader each month to discuss and review policy issues.
The political policies of the party are decided by
popular vote by party members at the Annual Party
Conference. These are posted on the party website
During the talks that eventually led to the Good Friday
Agreement (GFA), the Progressive Unionist Party expressed
its commitment to the principles of non-violence and
exclusively peaceful and democratic means. We have
reiterated that commitment many times since then,
and do so again. We have taken our responsibilities
very seriously and have fulfilled our commitment under
the GFA to provide political analysis to the leaderships
of the UVF and RHC. As our manifesto and various policy
documents testify, we are committed to the concept
of conflict transformation, whereby we
use all our skills and influence to encourage those
who would normally use armed force to achieve political
objectives, on to a path, which uses democratic principles
to change political outcomes.
The work of the Party and individual Members in Conflict
The practical work of individual PUP members is testament
to our commitment to conflict transformation and the
transformation of loyalism. Below are some examples
of our members work.
It is easy to complain about ongoing paramilitary
activity and to both theorise about and prescribe
methods of addressing such activity. It is not so
easy to put such theories and prescriptions into practice.
Conflict transformation is a process in which we seek
to move from violent responses to conflict to non-
violent responses. It is about working to transform
the nature of the conflict from violent encounter
to democratic exchange, and about transforming the
nature of relationships between people in conflict.
It is a process that looks for generational changes
rather than quick fix solutions that last for a time
Unionist Party members were instrumental in setting
up community restorative justice programmes in West
Belfast, East Belfast, North Belfast and North Down.
This was done in co-operation with local PSNI, statutory
agencies, church and community representatives, the
ex-prisoner community and paramilitary leaders. Each
restorative justice programme being developed within
loyalist communities is managed by multi-agency Management
Committees, which include representatives from the
PSNI. While paramilitary groups have bought-in to
the restorative justice model they are not represented
on any Management Committee and have no input to decision-making.
the past, communities sought paramilitaries to deliver
instant justice, in the form of beatings, shootings
and expulsions, to those accused of anti-social activities.
The rationale of community restorative justice programmes
is to provide a non-violent alternative, which works
within the Rule of Law and complements the work of
the PSNI and the Courts, for any community that seeks
to end all so-called punishment attacks.
Independent evaluations carried out to date show that
the restorative approach to addressing socially harmful
activity is having a positive effect. We acknowledge
that much more needs to be done in this area and members
of both the Party Executive and Constituency Associations
are making an important and positive contribution
to the management and development of each programme.
fully endorse the opinions of political, church and
civic leaders who oppose so-called punishment
beatings and expulsions. But genuine opposition must
go beyond mere verbal condemnation. Genuine opposition
demands practical action on the ground, and that is
where society will find members of the Progressive
Unionist Party members have set up and maintain various
community mediation projects, which seek to encourage
local people at community level to develop non-violent
responses to conflict. The Party Executive has organised
training for its members and for constituency workers
in the principles and practice of mediation and alternative
dispute resolution. This has enhanced the capacity
of party members to facilitate mediation in a variety
of local disputes, including the issue of contentious
parades, and to respond to requests from the PSNI
and other statutory bodies such as the Parades Commission,
to intervene in conflict situations that have the
potential to escalate into violence.
Ex-Prisoner Interpretive Centre (EPIC)
party has worked with EPIC to support the reintegration
of former prisoners back into the mainstream of community
and economic life. The reintegration of politically
motivated ex-prisoners is essential to ensure a peaceful
and stable society. Indeed, a key aspect of the peace
process has been to encourage ex-prisoners to take
on productive and active roles in their local communities.
EPIC supports many ex-prisoners throughout their individual
process of reintegration. They provide help with training,
education, housing and welfare rights. All are essential
services in the transformation process. The contribution
that ex-prisoners have made in embedding non-violent
approaches to conflict often goes unnoticed. Many
ex-prisoners work in all areas of conflict transformation.
One project due to be launched is the You-Can project,
which, in conjunction with schools, aims to dissuade
young people from joining paramilitary organisations
through the testimony of former combatants.
unrest and violence have been well documented over
the last number of years. Members have used their
influence during Fire-fighting, bringing
violence to an end. They have been available 24 hours
a day, 7 days a week to help prevent recurrences.
The calm summer of last year did not happen by accident.
PUP members, ex-combatants and ex-prisoners have worked
tirelessly behind the scenes, putting together projects
that aim to end the unrest and violence between the
affected communities. It is extremely hard work trying
to bring two sides of a community together particularly
when there is no desire or willingness.
between loyalists and republicans, which continues
throughout the year, is crucial to the task of addressing
interface conflict. Members of the Party along with
former UVF/RHC prisoners have been to the forefront
in engaging with their republican counterparts in
a wide variety of inter-community initiatives and
The Progressive Unionist Party has continually broken
ground that others now walk on. Seeing dialogue
as an absolute necessity in ending violence and encouraging
peace and democracy members of the Party have worked
with key members of civic society to help develop
civic and community responses to paramilitary activity.
As a result a number of initiatives involving the
representatives of civic society working together
with community activists and representatives of ex.
prisoner groups have been established in the Greater
Belfast Area, and beyond. While we acknowledge that
many of these initiatives could not have developed
if church, trade union, business community and other
civic leaders had not become involved, we are not
overstating the case when we suggest that party members
were the catalyst that led to action.
talking to church leaders, members of the business
community, trades unions and many, many others, the
party has helped to encourage a progressive attitude
to Talks and to the whole peace
Transforming Loyalist Communities
Party Executive has developed an education programme
based on the theme Transforming Loyalist Communities
which seeks to encourage young loyalists and members
of paramilitary organisations to examine both the
concept and the need for social transformation and
the need to address those negative aspects of loyalism
that frustrate community and economic development
and undermine the moral fibre of their communities.
The programme has been delivered by Party Members
to young loyalists in a number of areas where the
analysis and influence of the party is generally accepted.
It has also been delivered to a number of community
groups and seminars attended by community, voluntary
and statutory representatives.
Responding to Crime
The Progressive Unionist Party has been, and continues
to be, active in pursuing initiatives that will assist
in the development of safe and secure communities
and is committed to rigorous opposition to organised
crime, the illicit drugs trade, the vice trade, anti-social
behaviour, racketeering and sectarian conflict. Party
members across the Province have literally put their
lives on the line in the fight against crime and vice.
The partys position is well known at both local
and provincial level and the party position on crime,
drugs and vice is being implemented at community level
by members and supporters.
members, including members of the Executive Committee,
are involved at community level in programmes aimed
at seeking to address the growing drugs culture within
our communities. Members have contributed articles
for publication, addressed seminars and conferences
and lobbied both the PSNI and Government on issues
related to crime, drugs and vice.
have also encouraged members of the public to report
instances of such activity to the authorities or where
they are fearful of doing so to make a complaint to
either a Party representative or to the Loyalist Commission.
Party members have reported instances of criminal
activity to the leadership of the UVF/RHC and are
aware that sanctions have been imposed by these groups
on their own membership.
Progressive Unionist Party has worked for many, many
years with all minority ethnic groups in Northern
Ireland. The party lobbied for the introduction of
Race Relations legislation and consulted many groups
in the lead up to the Good Friday Agreement to ensure
their voice was heard. The party has consistently
condemned racist attacks from whatever source and
its members have not only helped and supported victims
in a practical sense, they have been instrumental
in organising different events and projects aimed
at promoting good relations. Party members in Ballymena
organised an anti-racist conference last September,
inviting church and civic leaders, key politicians
and members of the loyalist community to debate the
issue of racism and break down the myths and perceptions
being peddled by some far right groups in the area.
Party members in the Monkstown/East Antrim area organised
and helped facilitate a weekend residential on anti-racism
measures for local community and voluntary activists.
Party members in South Belfast have used all their
influence, not only to bring racist attacks to an
end, but also to implement strategies aimed at challenging
racist attitudes and promoting good relations in the
areas most badly affected. For the Progressive Unionist
Party, conflict transformation does not just include
those from each side of the sectarian divide; conflict
transformation is a process that affects all the interfaces
that exist in society.
Blocks to Transformation
The projects above are just a few examples of the
work of party members over the last ten years or so.
During that time there have been many attempts to
stifle us and so end our commitment to conflict transformation
and the principles of democracy and non-violence.
Four party activists have been murdered. The party
leadership have received numerous death threats. Party
members and supporters have been verbally abused and
a large number have been forced to move home due to
intimidation. This has specifically been as a result
of our partys commitment to the political and
For many years there has been a policy of political
marginalisation waged against our party and those
associated with us. Whilst Sinn Fein and the Republican
movement have been ably assisted along the path of
democracy, the Progressive Unionist Party and Loyalism
were subject to a criminalisation process. The PUP
has said, and indeed the UVF and RHC have said, that
the Chief Constable and the PSNI should deal with
the criminality that exists within certain elements
do not deny its existence and have long questioned
why there has been a refusal to deal with it.
Community groups who are perceived to be aligned to
our party either because a party member serves
on the Management Committee or is employed as a member
of staff or volunteer experience difficulty
in securing funding for projects from statutory bodies
and many Local Strategy Partnerships. Several programmes
designed to help address issues of paramilitary recruitment,
so-called punishment attacks, racism and
sectarianism have been rejected, not on the basis
of merit or viability, but on the grounds of political
vetting. Sadly, Section 8:7 of the IMC Report appears
to recommend that both political vetting and extra-judicial
expulsions from community groups should be expanded
and endorsed by the Northern Ireland Office.
Progressive Unionist Party Meeting with the IMC
At its meeting with the IMC, the Progressive Unionist
Party outlined the process of Conflict Transformation
and indeed explained the great difficulties encountered
in the process. At the behest of the IMC, the party
addressed specific incidents and went to great lengths
to explain how the leaderships of the UVF and RHC
had dealt with these specific incidents. The party
delegation was both open and frank with the commissioners.
The IMC Report
On viewing the report, the Progressive Unionist Party
is dismayed that information given to the IMC, relating
to specific incidents mentioned in the report was
We find the report contradictory. One of the objectives
of the IMC as set out in Article 3 is
a view to promoting the transition to a peaceful society
The IMCs recommendations do not, in our opinion,
promote anything other than the further marginalisation
of those working hardest for conflict transformation.
Its Guiding Principles include that
rule of law is fundamental in a democratic society.
Its recommendations, in our opinion, disregard human
rights legislation and the proposed Bill of Rights
for Northern Ireland.
The IMCs recommendations turn Article 3 and
its Guiding Principles on their head. Instead of contributing
to transition, the report stultifies the process of
conflict transformation. It narrows the ground of
those actively involved in building peace and gives
the wreckers a leg up. In order to frustrate
the conflict transformation work of the Progressive
Unionist Party and of those within the UVF/RHC leadership
who genuinely desire to lead their men out of
the jungle the wreckers now have
a license to engage in violence and criminality knowing
that it will be the progressives and not they who
will be punished.
The recommendations outlined in section 8:7 of the
report contravene the principles of natural justice
and due process insofar as they suggest that members
of organisations and employees in the public, private
and voluntary sector can be expelled or sacked if
they cannot prove that they do not have paramilitary
links. What happened to innocent until proven
guilty? Surely this contradicts the IMCs
statement in p.45 of the report We have
considered the human rights implications of our work
at some depth
have consulted with
the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission.
Section 8.7 also recommends that all political parties
play a full and constructive part
in the operation of all criminal justice institutions
including the PSNI, the Policing Board and District
Policing Partnerships. Section 8.7 recommends exclusion
and political vetting in one sentence, and then proposes
inclusion and co-operation in another.
5.5 The UK incorporated the ECHR into domestic
legislation. How does this fit with shining
a light on certain people? Given a polluted
atmosphere in Northern Ireland, this has the potential
to set people up for assassination. In the past individuals
named by certain sections of the press have been physically
attacked, some have been murdered, on the basis of
media allegations. Is the IMC seriously considering
putting individuals at risk of assassination in contravention
of Article 13 of the International Agreement, which,
as the IMC acknowledges,
not to put at risk the safety or life of any person?
The IMC want Loyalist paramilitaries to go away. Given
the bloody history in this divided society, the IMC
report confirms, for Loyalist paramilitaries that
is, the very reason they should not go away. Namely
the very real threat posed by dissident
and mainstream Republican groups.
The IMC recommended sanction on the Progressive Unionist
Party has a number of possible implications. It could
force a young mother out of a job and remove a much-needed
service from an already disadvantaged community. It
also has the capacity to restrict the PUP in its ability
to influence those that the IMC argue, need to be
influenced. The sanction curtails the ability of the
party to fulfil its representative obligations.
Despite the IMC contribution to the political marginalisation
of Loyalism, the Progressive Unionist Party will continue
its work in promoting the transition to a peaceful,
stable and democratic society.
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