David Ervine’s brother fears loyalist backlash over ‘marginalisation’

Brian Ervine -  brother of the late David Ervine - at the memorial mural in east Belfast. Picture: Diane Magill

Brian Ervine - brother of the late David Ervine - at the memorial mural in east Belfast. Picture: Diane Magill

David Ervine would have been “dismayed” at the “cack-handed implementation of the Good Friday Agreement” – creating the potential for violence – his brother has said 10 years on from the former PUP leader’s death.

Brian Ervine, who also led the party for a short period following the resignation of Dawn Purvis in 2010, is angry that David’s legacy has not produced a fair deal for loyalist communities.

Secretary of State 
Peter Hain and Gerry Adams follow the coffin at the funeral of David Ervine on the Newtownards Road in East Belfast. Pacemaker Belfast

Secretary of State Peter Hain and Gerry Adams follow the coffin at the funeral of David Ervine on the Newtownards Road in East Belfast. Pacemaker Belfast

The 53-year-old assembly member for East Belfast died from a stroke and brain haemorrhage after suffering a heart attack on January 8, 2007.

On the 10th anniversary weekend of his death, a remembrance event is taking place at the Ervine mural, off the Albertbridge Road, at 11am on Saturday.

In a scathing assessment of the current Stormont institutions, Brian Ervine said the continued marginalisation of loyalists could yet spill over into violence.

“Overall I think David would have been very disillusioned. When the Troubles began we had a one party corrupt state for 50 years, now we have a two party corrupt state. The Frankenstein’s monster lurches from one scandal to another and staggers from crisis to crisis. The miracle is that it has not fallen into the ditch, yet,” he said.

If you demonise and isolate loyalists then you are asking for trouble further down the line

Brian Ervine

“It doesn’t matter what any of our politicians do because the establishment has ruled that they will back them up. That’s what I believe David would have made of it all so far. He would be been dismayed at the cack-handed implementation of the [Good Friday] agreement.

“Tony Blair is on record as saying ‘I will deal with Sinn Fein and the chief constable will deal with the loyalists.’ This is code for ‘I will sanitise and politicise Sinn Fein and the chief constable will criminalise and demonise the other’.”

Mr Ervine, who will address those attending the memorial event this morning, said he believed David would have been happy that Sinn Fein was in government, but believes his brother is now, wrongly, referred to as if he had been part of the establishment.

“Let’s not forget that David was a UVF man. He was driven into the UVF by the Bloody Friday explosions, and he virtually put his life on the line time and time again to reach some form of equitable political solution here, at a time when it wasn’t popular to do so.

A celebration for the life of David Ervine took place in the East Belfast Mission.
Pic: Gavan Caldwell

A celebration for the life of David Ervine took place in the East Belfast Mission. Pic: Gavan Caldwell

“The problem that exists now is that if you demonise and isolate loyalists, and not only report what they say but misrepresent what they say and malign them, then you are asking for trouble further down the line.

“ISIS didn’t appear overnight, and I don’t want to be over-dramatic, but there is a principle here and I think we are sowing the wind at the minute by our attitude towards one particular group in our society, who have been scapegoated and marginalised.”

David Ervine became Progressive Unionist leader in 2002. When he died Prime Minister Tony Blair expressed sorrow at his passing.

“David was a man who, whatever his past, played a major part in this last 10 years in trying to bring peace to Ulster,” Mr Blair said at the time.

In a highly significant gesture, Sinn Fein Gerry Adams joined the mourners as the cortege made its way along the staunchly loyalist Newtownards Road.

Brian Ervine – who returned to his former job as a teacher of young adults with literacy problems – on quitting politics, said the current arrangements “institutionalise sectarianism” and added: “If these things are not sorted out it will ultimately lead to violence. As people become more disillusioned with the institutions, there is a simmering discontentment here. They [loyalists] feel that they have got nothing out of the agreement but vilification.

“Don’t get me wrong, there are thugs and hoods in loyalist areas who deserve it, and the rigour of the law should be directed to them and they should face the consequences, but we are talking about in general.”

PUP councillor Dr John Kyle will also be speaking at Saturday morning’s commemoration.

He said: “David Ervine made a huge contribution to the peace process, including bringing about the paramilitary ceasefires. But he also focussed on the problems young people faced growing up in a divided and damaged society.

“He was among the first to highlight the problems in our education system and the difficulties for young people leaving education with little prospect of employment.”

Cllr Kyle added: “In many ways he made a unique contribution to the Northern Ireland political process. He was progressive, he was honest and he was a man of his word. All who worked with him ended up respecting him.”

Commenting on the future of the party that reached its peak under David Ervine’s leadership, Cllr Kyle said: “The Progressive Unionist Party recognises the challenges that it faces to become a major political force.

“It remains committed to David’s vision of a flourishing, peaceful, non sectarian society, but also it recognises that many communities are struggling under austerity and the financial constraints that the past seven or eight years of economic downturn.

“The PUP is absolutely here to stay and it sees its role as even more important than a decade ago.”