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Empey move exposes DUP hypocrisy

(, Irish News)

Opening the door to enable David Ervine to enter the UUP group at Stormont has sent shock waves through the system. The attack on Mark Haddock added to Sir Reg Empey's discomfort and left the PUP in the invidious position of being held responsible for something it could not control. Mount Vernon UVF is literally out of control albeit with elements controlled by Special Branch. Adding to the pressure, media attention has also focused on the position of Dawn Purvis, chairwoman of the PUP, on the Policing Board.

People throughout the community were shocked at Sir Reg Empey's courage and honesty about the past deeds of some unionist politicians. Honesty about the past is a scarce commodity but surely has to be central to any genuine move towards peace and stability.

In contrast, the DUP's decision to opt out of a deal to elect Tommy Kirkham of the UDA aligned UPRG in Newtownabbey, illustrates if illustration is needed, the hypocrisy, dishonesty and fear of risk-taking that is endemic in DUP politics.

Widespread ignorance exists about the emergence of the PUP. The party was the outcome of past questioning that led to an awakening mainly within elements of the UVF leadership, to the futility and inhumanity of a culture of violence and sectarianism. This alongside developments in the UDA was not universally welcomed inside or outside paramilitary ranks. Some unionists even privately questioned the wisdom of the loyalist ceasefires of 1994 suggesting they should not end their violent campaign just yet. Others urged that they hold onto their arms illustrating that we still live in a sectarian society at all levels and that the task of changing this is a mammoth one.

It was the courage and tenacity of people like Mr Ervine and Ms Purvis that enabled paramilitaries to avoid a return to full-scale violence. The voices of common sense prevailed over the hankerings after old ways. For decades, reactionary unionism with the unwitting support of many dissident and reactionary republicans and tardiness on the part of mainline republicans hindered the UVF's move into politics. That, together with the unionist perennial lack of confidence, was the primary explanation for UVF difficulties.

Nor can we ignore the shadowy part played by members of the security services and dissident loyalists in diverting progressive loyalists from the task of ending violence and dismantling illegal violent organisations.

As with the IRA, initial moves towards peace and normality were almost always leadership led and inspired by a small number of visionaries. This role required dogged persistence and brought few rewards at a time when criminality and drugs wrecked havoc on their communities.

But instead of helping loyalists build a new shared future and fostering new links with other parts of the UK and the Irish Republic, the DUP and other reactionaries remained a drag on progress and now seem set on condemning us to government by Westminster and Dublin. This undoubtedly discouraged UVF decommissioning and the standing down of their organisation.

Into the midst of this dismal scenario Sir Reg Empey and Mr Ervine have thrown a mighty spanner that has upset the selfish calculations of the DUP. Sir Reg's frank admission that, along with DUP machinations, Ulster Unionists also played fast and loose with paramilitaries is refreshing. At a stroke this created new possibilities. The disadvantaged and marginalised loyalist communities, whose fears hindered progress, might now enter the fray to frustrate the cosy circles of complacent negativity.

Questions naturally arise in many minds. But getting out of the pit of sectarian enmity is a risky business. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, 'There is no way to peace along the way of safety. For peace must be dared'. Sir Reg may have stumbled inadvertently onto this path but his actions now challenge us to dare to make peace. Many recognise the inherent wisdom in this though Empey's personal motivation doesn't really matter. It is actions that count. Rewards may or may not come in terms of UUP electoral gains but the time has come to do what is right rather than what is expedient. Scepticism about DUP hypocrisy and their policy of avoiding all risk-taking while doing nothing, grows.

Sir Reg Empey must now hold his nerve and dare to help make peace where it really counts.

June 6, 2006

This article appeared first in the June 5, 2006 edition of the Irish News.

This article appears thanks to the Irish News. Subscribe to the Irish News