“I can no longer offer leadership to a political party which is expected to answer for the indefensible actions of others.”
Whether personal or organisational, there is significant speculation that there were UVF links to the brutal murder/public execution of Bobby Moffett on Belfast’s Shankill Road last week. Subsequently there has been a lot of discussion about intimidation and local people not feeling free to attend his funeral.
While no one really believes that Belfast’s streets are entirely free of guns, the widely understood rules of the decommissioning game seemed to state that no organisation should be caught taking them out from underneath their floorboards and using them. But those involved in Moffett’s murder seemed to be deliberately ignoring that custom.
The murder and community intimidation put enormous pressure on Dawn Purvis as leader of the Progressive Unionist Party. When talking about her politics, she speaks about improving conditions in working class areas of Belfast, addressing educational underachievement and poor levels of literacy, campaigning for the extension of the Abortion Act to Northern Ireland. It’s about moving forward, rather than being dragged back into past conflicts.
In a statement following her resignation, Dawn explained:
“I make this decision with a very heavy heart. I believe the Progressive Unionist Party was founded by individuals who had a real vision for Northern Ireland and a positive and important contribution to make to politics and the peace process in this country. I have been honoured to be a part of that.
However, I can no longer offer leadership to a political party which is expected to answer for the indefensible actions of others. I will continue in my role of MLA as an independent member of the Assembly, representing the people of East Belfast.
It will be my objective, as it has always been, to bring to the Assembly specific policy ideas and proposals which will make Northern Ireland a place where there is equality of opportunity for all, and where the people of Northern Ireland can be proud to live, work, learn and play.”
Councillor Dr John Kyle has been appointed the interim leader of the PUP. But with no representative in the Assembly, and unless the party can finally lose the baggage of being perceived as the political mouthpiece for paramilitaries, the PUP’s plans to run candidates across Belfast in the 2011 council elections may lack credibility in the eyes of the electorate.
The question is whether the distinctive political vision of the PUP (that grew out of David Ervine’s experience) can be kept alive and perhaps moved under a new banner to keep a focus on communities that are often overlooked and disenfranchised by the larger parties?
I interviewed Dawn Purvis last November as part of a series of posts looking at local East Belfast political representatives, and asked her about how she got into politics.
“I was never attracted into the world of politics. Politics was a big turn off for me because I heard large men with booming voices and from a very early age I thought they had nothing to offer to this society and were never going to resolve the difficulties. So from a very early age I always thought that it was those who were doing the fighting and those who were committing the violence that had to sit round the table and had to sort out their difficulties. And that’s what needed to happen and it did happen.
And I suppose becoming involved in community work, mother and toddlers, after school club, and actually working in the community when my kids were small, when I started to realise the very great need that was there, that’s how I became headhunted by the party if you like.
And that’s what the PUP does. It recognises talented people and said we need people like you in the party who are working at the coal face for some of the most vulnerable. And a friend of mine headhunted me into the party.
And I have to say that where I am now, if you’d said to me in late 1994 this is where you’re going to be in fifteen years’ time, I’d’ve probably been looking two GPs to get you signed into Knockbracken!
But I love what I do and I remind myself every day that I’m here because people put me here, and in everything I do, I remind myself that this isn’t about me, but it’s about the people who I represent.”