Northern Ireland

PUP backs Gusty Spence UVF disbandment appeal

Gusty Spence
Image caption Gusty Spence said there was no reason for the UVF to exist

The leader of the Progressive Unionist Party has backed a call from the man who founded the UVF for the paramilitary group to disband.

Brian Ervine was responding to comments made by Gusty Spence to the Spotlight programme in the wake of the murder of Bobby Moffett in west Belfast in May.

Mr Ervine said the UVF leadership was "seeking alternatives".

He added: "Where do they go, how do they go and when do they go? My view is the sooner the better."

'Doyen'

He said Mr Spence was seen as a "doyen" and that his words would carry "weight and impact".

Mr Spence told Spotlight that ongoing violence could not be justified.

"The UVF should disband now," he said in a statement to reporter Darragh MacIntyre. "There is no reason for them to exist."

The programme, broadcast on Tuesday, shows how the Moffett murder and a high-level police investigation have brought the UVF to a critical juncture between disbandment and further violence.

Sixteen years after declaring a ceasefire and more than three years after announcing a "non-military civilianised role", the UVF has been implicated in the murder of Belfast man Mr Moffett

It has also been linked to continued "punishment attacks" and recent rioting in Rathcoole.

Senior figures in the UVF - the deadliest loyalist group throughout the Troubles - have recently pushed for the organisation to wind up.

Loose end

But others, including a UVF spokesman who talked to Darragh MacIntyre, said there was potential for more militant elements to gain the upper hand within the paramilitary group.

Chris Hudson, who previously acted as a go-between for the Irish government and the UVF, told the programme: "This is one loose end that, if it is not tidied up, may cause us great heartache in the near future."

Mr Ervine told Spotlight that a senior north Belfast loyalist's apparent decision to become a "supergrass" could harden the position.

Riots in Newtownabbey's Rathcoole estate last month were linked to the police investigation involving that loyalist.

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