PUP leader urged to act on disarmament


The Progressive Unionist leader Mr David Ervine was today told he should be doing more to secure loyalist paramilitary disarmament in Northern Ireland.

Alliance Party Assembly member Ms Naomi Long said it was not good enough for Mr Ervine to say loyalists would only move on the arms issue if the IRA went out of business.

The East Belfast MLA said all paramilitaries had to end criminal and paramilitary activity and disarm now.

"Whilst I agree with David Ervine that the IRA need to bring their paramilitary and criminal activities to an end once and for all, for loyalists to dish out such advice is a blatant case of the pot calling the kettle black," she said.

"Despite several acts of decommissioning by the IRA, neither the UVF nor the UDA have handed over a single gun or bullet.

"He perpetuates the myth that loyalist guns are kept only to defend loyalists from potential republican attack.

"The reality is that loyalist guns are not kept silently but are actively used on the streets, whether in the commissioning of serious crime, drug dealing, intimidation, extortion, protection rackets, armed robberies, and violent vigilante attacks or are turned on each other in a series of bloody feuds, which have ripped the heart and soul out of some of our most disadvantaged communities."

Mr Ervine told the PUP's conference in east Belfast yesterday that he believed the IRA was preparing for ground-breaking moves in the coming months.

The PUP leader, whose party is linked to the Ulster Volunteer Force and Red Hand Commando, said he believed loyalists could respond positively to a public declaration from the IRA that its war was over.

However he appealed to others in the political process to reach out to the Protestant working class and provide them with the same assistance that republicans had received to shake off paramilitarism.

Mr Ervine, who is also an Assembly member for East Belfast, told PUP members: "In six months the IRA will undoubtedly have made serious moves and the focus will undoubtedly be on loyalism.

"We need a plan. We need a plan from where we have never had it before."

However he was criticised by Ms Long for failing to tell loyalist terror gangs to disarm now.

"David Ervine said that he feels it would be his responsibility to persuade loyalists to give up their weapons once the IRA fully decommissioned," the Alliance MLA said.

"He needs to put down his thesaurus for a moment and pick up his copy of the Good Friday Agreement it already is his responsibility.

"Every politician agreed to do everything within their power to bring an end to all paramilitary violence and parties such as Sinn Fein and the PUP, who claim to have influence within armed organisations, have a particular responsibility in that regard.

"Alliance will certainly be working hard to create the conditions in which it can happen and to shine a light on continued violent criminality in the meantime, both republican and loyalist.

"For far too long Mr Ervine has been allowed to hide behind eloquent soliloquies and fine sounding platitudes when it comes to the question of loyalist violence.

"My message to him is clear - a little less conversation and a little more action would be in order."