Exploratory dialogue with the political parties representing loyalist paramilitaries involved the PUP’s David Ervine expressing concern at the absence of the “controllers of morality” from some loyalist areas.
The first meeting between NIO officials and a joint delegation from the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) and the Ulster Democratic Party (UDP) was held on December 15 1994 in Parliament Buildings.
Gary McMichael led the UDP delegation while Billy Hutchinson led the PUP side. Unlike the eloquent exhortation by the civil servant leading the exploratory dialogue with Sinn Fein, minutes contained in a file declassified at the Public Record Office show that there was a more prosaic speech to begin the meeting.
The meeting was described in the minutes as initially having been “reasonably relaxed” but became antagonistic, with Mr McMichael insisting that regardless of their electoral support, the two parties had a “latent mandate” within the community.
Mr Ervine said that in a government document which had been put to them they were “very disappointed at the continual references to the smallness of their mandate”.
A confidential January 23 1995 memo from NIO official Stephen Leach said that “the PUP and UDP (particularly the latter) have a considerably more problematic relationship with their respective paramilitaries than Sinn Fein does with the IRA”.
The meetings were one of the first occasions on which Mr Ervine – who would go on to become the key loyalist political figure – emerged as a major player and civil servants commented on his impressive contributions.
At the fifth meeting, in February 1995, Mr Ervine told the government that it was good to see policies of community regeneration in greater Shankill but “he feared the sense of community had been removed and this needed to be instilled again. The sense of family had largely disappeared from the area and with it, to a large extent, the controllers of morality (grandparents especially)”.
The minutes also said that “Mr Ervine helpfully suggested that factories could be created between ghetto areas in land currently used as a buffer astride the peacelines. The workforces should be mixed and this would be another factor in breaking down sectarianism”.
During the meeting, Mr Leach said that “ministers and officials had been struck by the maturity of the comments by UDP/PUP spokesmen”.