The criminality of a renegade UVF faction must be dealt with before it destroys loyalist communities, and its political wing the PUP, a leading member of the party has said.
Commenting on the activities of UVF paramilitaries in east Belfast, PUP councillor John Kyle said there was a “huge role” for the PSNI in addressing the “criminality and drug dealing and intimidation” of the gang on the fringe of the main organisation.
“I have no doubt there is criminality going on in east Belfast associated with the UVF,” he said.
Dr Kyle was speaking as pressure continues to mount on the PUP spokesman Winston Irvine in the wake of a highly critical BBC Spotlight programme broadcast last week.
Tuesday night’s documentary alleged that Mr Irvine was a senior UVF figure, an allegation which he denied, claiming to have never been a member of the organisation.
Spotlight also alleged that the UVF was continuing to recruit new members, and raised questions over Mr Irvine’s suitability to sit on public bodies such as the Policing and Community Safety Partnership (PCSP).
Following the broadcast, the Policing Board said it will be reviewing the appointment of Mr Irvine to the North Belfast PCSP.
However, Dr Kyle has strongly defended his party colleague. “I think the allegations were scurrilous. They make unfounded allegations about him and, by association, imply that he is up to his neck in the criminality that is going on in east Belfast,” Dr Kyle told the BBC yesterday.
“No one in east Belfast believes that Winston Irvine has anything to do with the criminality that’s there. In fact the exact opposite...he has become involved in politics, he is involved in the North and West [Belfast] Parades Forum, he is involved in mediation and interfaces. He is doing exactly what Naomi Long has asked him to do.”
Dr Kyle added: “You cannot on the one hand say that paramilitaries need to move into politics and positive citizenship, and then take one of the best example of someone who has done that and condemn him for associating with criminals.”
In response to the Spotlight programme, PUP leader Billy Hutchinson said he offered his wholehearted support to Mr Irvine following the “unfounded and politically motivated” allegations.
However, in a statement released yesterday Mr Hutchinson did not address Spotlight’s allegation that Mr Irvine was a senior UVF figure, instead focussing on attacking the BBC.
The former UVF prisoner said: “This is a cynical attempt to criminalise confident, progressive loyalists due to the threat that they pose to the political elites.
“Winston’s involvement in the political and peace process is a vital step in helping to develop a lasting peace.”