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A New Dawn

Mark Devenport | 09:09 UK time, Thursday, 3 June 2010

Having condemned the murder of Bobby Moffett and the subsequent intimidation of people in the Shankill area, Dawn Purvis today went an extra mile by parting company altogether with the UVF's political wing, the PUP. Cynics may note that this puts her Stormont allowances beyond the grasp of any future sanction from the Independent Monitoring Commission. However anyone who knows the East Belfast MLA will recognise that she has a firm committment to her left wing unionist principles, and for her to take this decisive action points to something more than a temporary tactic. Ms Purvis never relished the role of explaining away UVF transgressions - she clearly had no stomach to act as a mouthpiece for those who ordered Mr Moffett's death. David Ervine's widow Jeanette has described the murder as "the last straw*" and blamed "a handful of people who don't want politics."

Councillor John Kyle, a Christian GP from East Belfast, is now taking over the PUP on an interim basis. He's told the Nolan show that he still believes the PUP has been a "superb project" which deserves support. However he wouldn't rule out a complete break with the UVF, responding only that this would be a decision for a future PUP meeting. The late David Ervine, as a former UVF member, undoubtedly had what his wife calls "the street cred" in persuading the paramilitaries to hold to their ceasefire during tense times. But if Dawn Purvis's influence turned out to be far more limited, the same will surely apply to John Kyle, leader of a party which no longer has as MLA. To that extent could the PUP face the same fate as the old Ulster Democrats, who parted company from the UDA, then withered away?

Apart from raising questions over the future of the PUP, the murder of Bobby Moffett brings into focus the credibility of the loyalist weapons decommissioning process. Back in June 2009the UVF and Red Hand Commando told the public they had put their guns "totally and irreversibly beyond use". Yet some of those guns seem to have been very much in use on the Shankill Road last week. What would have been the response from the mainstream unionist parties if Provisional IRA guns had been brought onto the streets and used in a murder carried out on a busy thoroughfare in front of passing shoppers? That is what seems to be the case with the UVF. How many UVF guns were held back from General De Chastelain's team, and how many weapons do other paramilitary groups still have at their disposal?

UPDATE: My colleague Martina Purdy interviewed Dawn Purvis in her East Belfast office earlier today and found herself just ahead in the queue of the UUP's Fred Cobain. old friends, one presumes, or have other parties started wooing the independent Ms. Purvis already?


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