I picked up a copy of the biography David Ervine: Uncharted Waters in the Book Nook secondhand bookshop just before it closed when the Victoria Centre was demolished.
It is a fairly warts and all description of Ervine’s life around East Belfast, paramilitary involvement and subsequent political life. It describes his effort to help change opinion across the loyalist community, including influencing UVF prisoners and its leadership.
Under the eye of Gusty Spence in Long Kesh (which reads more like a Great Escape-like Second World War prisoner of war camp), Ervine worked towards his O-levels and an OU degree. Education was a key to achieving loyalism’s goals through political methods.
Ervine came across as a creative politician in a country needing imagination, courage and determination. To me he was genuinely trying to move forward, aware of the reality of our country’s past and the need to bring the more extreme organisations with the rest of unionism: bringing them from a military idealism towards one that can see value in slower, more subtle, political lobbying, or else face their non-participation and disruption.
He seemed frustrated that the larger parties kept so tight a grip on the Stormont hand-brake, and were so quick to criticise his party when he was actually putting in the graft to engage with folk that the mainstream parties wouldn’t so quickly bother with.
David Ervine tragically died this afternoon in hospital following a sudden heart attack on Sunday, and subsequent a brain haemorrhage and a stoke. His family’s statement said that he “passed away quietly, peacefully and with dignity”. Which sums up the man. His tenacity and patience (frequently tried, only sometimes stretched to breaking point) will be missed. So too will his candour and humour.
It says a lot when not only the current Northern Ireland Secretary of State Peter Hain passes a message of support to your family, but the previous Secretary of State and now Home Secretary John Reid speaks too. Sincere messages of condolence are now being voiced from right across the island’s political spectrum.
We can only hope that others will help fill his vacuum and will help loyalism to remember its bloody history, and keep steering it away from violence and towards a path towards peace that Ervine so desperately wanted.