17 May 2006

UUP-PUP DEAL UNDER FIRE FROM VICTIMS OF UVF VIOLENCE

IAIS

05/16/06 14:49 EST

The leader of the Progressive Unionist Party, David Ervine, has denied he was promised any post in the Northern Ireland Assembly in return for joining the Ulster Unionist Party Assembly group.

East Belfast Assembly member David Ervine, whose decision to join forces with the UUP has caused controversy in the first two days of the new Assembly at Stormont, also accused those in the Democratic Unionists who had criticised the move of hypocrisy.

And he also expressed "some understanding" of the negative response from the father of a murder victim of the Ulster Volunteer Force, to which the Progressive Unionist Party is linked.

Mr Ervine said: "I have not been promised anything. One fool described me as a fool for not demanding to be a minister. That would be ludicrous."

"I have no intention, nor has anybody any intentions, of allowing me to be a minister in the Northern Ireland Executive."

Mr Ervine`s decision to become part of the Ulster Unionist Assembly group could result in unionists having a majority of ministers in any future Stormont executive.

Prior to the move, the UUP and Sinn Fein both had 24 Assembly members in their ranks.

Sinn Fein, however, would have been entitled to three cabinet posts as opposed to the Ulster Unionists` two because it had more votes in the 2003 Assembly election.

In that scenario, there would have been an equal number of nationalist and unionist ministers.

Mr Ervine`s decision to join up with the UUP Assembly group will mean Sir Reg Empey`s party will gain a ministry at the expense of Sinn Fein.

The UUP will also be the second party to be called in Assembly debates, ahead of Sinn Fein, under the Assembly`s speaking rights.

The move prompted the DUP leader, the Reverend Ian Paisley, to claim that the Ulster Unionists were legitimising a party with a link to an active paramilitary organisation engaged in criminality.

Mr Ervine responded today that he could remember Mr Paisley`s involvement in the United Ulster Unionist Council and DUP members voting for a Progressive Unionist Lord Mayor in Belfast.

He also recalled how fellow loyalist politician Gary McMichael and him flanked former Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble on the way into talks in Stormont`s Castle Buildings chaired by former US Senator George Mitchell.

"That was way back in 1996," he said. "This is 2006. It is about time we moved on. All of the things we desired have not been put in place. Some of them have. If the next phase of the peace process is parliamentary democracy, then let us get on with parliamentary democracy and the rest of it will have to follow on in its wake."

Raymond McCord Sr, whose son Raymond Junior was beaten to death by a UVF gang and his body dumped in a quarry on the outskirts of Belfast in 1997, criticised the Ulster Unionists yesterday for admitting Mr Ervine into their ranks.

Mr. McCord said the UUP had shown "total hypocrisy" by bringing Mr Ervine into the party's Stormont team.

Mr McCord held a meeting with UUP leader Reg Empey and deputy leader Danny Kennedy yesterday morning.

He said: "I asked Reg Empey why he would bring a man like Ervine into the unionist group, a man who fails to condemn UVF murders. Since its ceasefire, 25 to 30 people have been killed by the UVF. The Ulster Unionists walked out of the assembly three years ago over what the IRA was doing, but the Provos weren't killing Protestants, the UVF have been."

"I believe unionist politicians have shown no sympathy or any urgency for bringing people to account for the UVF's silence."

"The reason for his inclusion is for power, to get an extra seat and take a seat away from Sinn Féin. That's not satisfactory."

He said that allegations by DUP leader Ian Paisley that the UUP had aligned itself with 'terrorism' were simply "point-scoring".

Mr McCord revealed that the UUP leader agreed to ask Mr Ervine to meet Mr McCord for face-to-face discussions over the death of his son, something the PUP leader has so far refused to do.

Mr Empey defended his party's position yesterday, claiming the move would pass a third Sinn Féin executive place to them and see a unionist majority for the first time on the executive.

The PUP leader replied: "I think Mr McCord is a grieving father and we have to understand that. Maybe if I was in his position I would feel exactly the same way and would be making the same comments."

"I do not know. Thank goodness, I am not. What I can say to you is that I have met Raymond McCord on numerous occasions face-to-face in private. I say this very cautiously to you. It became clear I could not deliver in all conscience that which Mr McCord required. Therefore it seemed to me that there was little point in maintaining the contact I could not have delivered on."

The UUP strategy was also condemned by Belfast man Gerard McErlean, who lost two brothers to two UVF gunmen on May 23, 1975.

John (29) and Thomas McErlean (19) were murdered as they played cards with Protestant workmates.

Mr McErlean said the move showed the UUP's past position on refusing to deal with republicans unless the IRA decommissioned its weapons to be "one-sided" and devoid of principle.

He questioned whether the UUP was now to be considered the political representatives of the UVF.

"This move is a farce. Are we to use the phrase UUP/UVF when describing their Stormont team? The last Stormont executive was collapsed because Ulster Unionists threatened to walk due to the alleged republican spy ring. They said they couldn't, in principle, deal with active paramilitaries. It seems the party never ascribed to that principle and it is clear all they want is power. They've shown sickening expediency and double standards."

Johnny Marshall, brother of Lurgan man Sam Marshall, shot dead in March 1990 by the UVF with the alleged help of security force members, echoed Mr McErlean's comments.

He said the UUP move was an insult to every civilian killed by loyalists during the conflict.

"My brother was killed and the Ulster Unionists couldn't care less who killed him. They don't care how many nationalists were killed by people who still have guns. It's an insult."

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