Dawn Purvis resigns as PUP leader

 

The leader of the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) confirmed today she is resigning in the wake of a Belfast murder last week.

Dawn Purvis, the only loyalist representative in the Northern Ireland Assembly, made the decision after Bobby Moffett was shot dead in front of shoppers on Belfast’s Shankill Road last Friday.

Members of the UVF, which is on ceasefire and was recently credited with decommissioning its weapons, were blamed for the killing after gunmen shot the 43-year-old over a private dispute. The PUP is linked to the loyalist paramilitary UVF.

In a statement, the East Belfast Assembly member said: "I make this decision with a very heavy heart. I believe the Progressive Unionist Party was founded by individuals who had a real vision for Northern Ireland and a positive and important contribution to make to politics and the peace process in this country. I have been honoured to be a part of that."

"However, I can no longer offer leadership to a political party which is expected to answer for the indefensible actions of others." Ms Purvis added she would continue as an MLA for East Belfast.

In her first public comments since reports of her decision first emerged, she said she made the decision last night after discussions with colleagues.

Explaining her move, she said: "I think the Progressive Unionist Party as it is constituted is severely restricted in its ability to not only make electoral gains, but to deliver on all the issues that affect our community.”

She added: “I think that the Progressive Unionist Party has been hampered.” Ms Purvis said the PUP and UVF had no overlap in membership, but the relationship between the groups was restricting the political party.

Asked if the UVF’s long-standing ceasefire represented a genuine desire to reject violence, Ms Purvis said: “I believe that when the statements were made that they were made with truth and with honour.

“But I also believe that there are elements in the organisation that have absolutely no interest in politics, that have absolutely no interest in the future of their country, and that have absolutely no interest in the Progressive Unionist Party.”

The Assembly member said she had no reason to believe the UVF would be angered by her decision and said she had discussed her move with members of the paramilitary group.

In a statement, the PUP expressed "much regret" over the loss of Ms Purvis of leader and said Cllr Dr John Kyle had been appointed as interim leader. The party will meet over the next few days to discuss the implications of the resignation.

"We are dedicated to developing an anti-sectarian and pluralist Northern Ireland and will continue to work to achieve our goals," said party chairman Brian Lacey.

Sinn Féin Assembly member for South Belfast Alex Maskey said he was saddened by the decision.

“Throughout the development of the peace process both Dawn Purvis and her predecessor David Ervine have played positive roles," Mr Maskey said. "Her resignation last night as PUP leader and as a party member in the wake of the Bobby Moffett murder will come as a blow to that party."

It is estimated the UVF and its allies, the Red Hand Commando group, were responsible for the deaths of more than 500 people, mainly Catholic civilians, during the Troubles.

The UVF was blamed for the greatest loss of life in a single day during the conflict when it planted a series of bombs in Dublin and Monaghan in May 1974, killing 33 people.

In 1994 it was among the paramilitary groups who declared a ceasefire. But its role in violence continued at a lower level, including a series of murderous feuds between rival loyalist groups.

In May 2007 the UVF “stood down” its members, while the group decommissioned its weapons in June 2009.

The PUP was formed in the late 1970s but came to prominence after the UVF ceasefire and during the subsequent talks that led to the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement. The party was seen as having helped to cement the peace process under its former leader, and ex-UVF prisoner, the late David Ervine.

Today Mr Ervine’s widow, Jeanette, said her husband had wanted the paramilitaries to leave the stage and would have been dismayed by the latest developments. She said Ms Purvis suffered from a macho culture where some loyalists might not have listened to the female politician.