|Leader of the
Progressive Unionist Party
|Preceded by||Hugh Smyth|
|Succeeded by||Dawn Purvis|
|Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly
for Belfast East
25 June 1998 – 8 January 2007
|Preceded by||New Creation|
|Succeeded by||Dawn Purvis|
21 July 1953|
Belfast, Northern Ireland
|Died||8 January 2007
|Political party||Progressive Unionist Party|
|Spouse(s)||Jeanette Cunningham (1971)|
David Ervine (21 July 1953 – 8 January 2007) was a Northern Irish unionist politician from Northern Ireland and the leader of the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP). During his youth Ervine was a member of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and was imprisoned for possessing bomb-making equipment. Whilst in jail he became convinced of the benefits of a more political approach for Ulster loyalism and became involved with the PUP. As a leading PUP figure, Ervine helped to deliver the loyalist ceasefire of 1994.
David Ervine was the youngest of five children born to Walter and Elizabeth Ervine, and raised in a Protestant working-class area of east Belfast between the Albertbridge and Newtownards roads. His household was not loyalist at all, his father Walter described himself as a socialist, had no time for Ian Paisley and didn't attend church. When Ervine joined the Orange Order aged 18, he said he was the first member of his family to ever be a member. His membership however didn't last long. Like many in his situation, he grew up closely identifying with his community and absorbed the Ulster Unionism ideals and opinions that go along with this identity. He left Orangefield High School at 14, and at the age of 19 Ervine joined the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), believing this to be the only way to ensure the defence of the Protestant community after the events of Bloody Friday. A neighbour of Ervine's who was a member of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) William Irvine, had died in one of the bomb blasts on Bloody Friday. Before joining the UVF Ervine had attempted to join the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), but due to a misdemeanour in his childhood involving a stolen bicycle, he was refused entry.
Arrest and imprisonment
Ervine was arrested in November 1974, while an active member of the UVF. He was driving a stolen car containing five pounds of commercial explosives, a detonator and fuse wire. After 7 months on remand in Crumlin Road Gaol he was found guilty of possession of explosives with intent to endanger life. He was sentenced to 11 years and imprisoned in The Maze.
While in prison, Ervine came under the influence of Gusty Spence who made him question what his struggle was about. Spence's influence unquestionably changed Ervine's direction: after much study and self-analysis, Ervine emerged with the view that change through politics was the only option.
He also became friends with Billy Hutchinson while in prison.
Ervine was released from prison in 1980. He owned a newsagents' in Belfast for several years before taking up full-time politics. He stood in local council elections as a Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) candidate in 1985. In 1998, he was elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly to represent Belfast East and was re-elected in 2003. He was also a member of Belfast City Council from 1997.
Ervine is said to have played a pivotal role in bringing about the loyalist ceasefire of October 1994. He was part of a delegation to Downing Street in June 1996 that met then British Prime Minister John Major to discuss the loyalist ceasefire.
Ervine was considered to be one of the most progressive unionists in Northern Ireland politics. He had been a strong supporter of the Good Friday Agreement and was one of the few unionist politicians to still actively support the Agreement. At a Labour Party meeting in 2001, then Northern Ireland Secretary, John Reid, described him as "one of the most eloquent politicians in Northern Ireland". Some of his opponents made references to him having swallowed a dictionary. Some saw Ervine as one of the few politicians actively engaged with conflict resolution.
In the Northern Ireland Assembly, he was seen as a Unionist sympathetic to the short term demands of Sinn Féin. He abstained against attempts by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to exclude Sinn Féin from office in July 2000 and October 2001. In April 2001, he provoked a direct political attack from the DUP over him being the only Unionist to vote against a motion condemning the display of lilies commemorating the 1916 Easter Uprising at Parliament Buildings. He also expressed support for the right of Sinn Féin members to make speeches in Irish (Gaelic) on the floor of the Assembly. Later, political commentators noted how he sat next to Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness at the funeral of Northern Ireland football legend George Best in December 2005 as a sign of how Northern Ireland had moved on.
The PUP, however, had close ties to the loyalist paramilitary organisation UVF, of which he was a past member, throughout his involvement in democratic politics.
In May 2005, the Independent Monitoring Commission recommended a continuation of the financial sanctions on his Assembly salary imposed following its report of April 2004. The IMC was of the opinion that the UVF and the PUP maintain strong links while the UVF is heavily involved in criminality such as drug dealing and tobacco and fuel smuggling. It further noted that the UVF was responsible for a number of acts of violence including murder and was actively maintaining its capacity to wage a terrorist campaign. It concluded that 12 months after the sanctions were originally imposed, the PUP leadership was still not doing enough to address the UVF's criminal and paramilitary activities.
Ervine appealed against the IMC's recommendation to newly appointed Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain on the basis that he could not be held directly responsible for the UVF's actions and thus it was wrong to penalise him personally. Hain accepted his representations and his Assembly salary was fully restored.
The IMC again recommended financial sanctions against him and the PUP in its special report of September 2005 on the violent feud that erupted between the UVF and the Loyalist Volunteer Force that summer in which a number of murders and attempted murders had been committed. It argued that the PUP leadership was still in a position to significantly influence the UVF and as such, the party could not have it both ways by associating with an active paramilitary organisation and not face any political consequences.
In its final regular reports of Ervine's life in April and October 2006, the IMC concluded that it was satisfied the PUP leadership had taken appropriate action to de-escalate UVF's violence and criminality and withdrew its punitive recommendations.
Links with the Ulster Unionists
On 13 May 2006, it was announced that when the Northern Ireland Assembly reconvened, Ervine would join the Ulster Unionist assembly group, while remaining leader of the Progressive Unionists. Under the D'Hondt method used for allocating places on the Northern Ireland Executive, this would entitle the Ulster Unionists to an additional place.
The Presiding Officer (Speaker) of the Assembly, Ms Eileen Bell, MLA indicated at the first meeting of the 'shadow' Assembly (15 May 2006) that she would take legal advice before ruling on whether Mr Ervine could be treated as a member of the UUP group.
On 11 September 2006 Ms Bell announced that the Ulster Unionist Party Assembly Group did not have a headquarters, at least one party leader and a scheme for financial support; thus it did not qualify as a political party. This meant that the UUPAG could not sit in the Assembly, so the alliance was deemed as invalid.
Illness and death
Ervine was reported as having suffered two massive heart attacks and a stroke after attending a football match between Glentoran F.C. and Armagh City F.C. at The Oval in Belfast on Saturday 6 January 2007. It was later confirmed that he had one heart attack, a stroke and brain haemorrhage. He was taken to the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald and was later admitted to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast. Ervine did not die until Monday 8 January 2007, however it was reported by RTÉ News at 9pm and on their website on the previous evening Sunday 7 January, that he had died that day. RTÉ's Northern Editor, Tommie Gorman, later apologised for his wrongly reported story of the death of Ervine in a radio interview.
Ervine was cremated at Roselawn Crematorium after a funeral service on 12 January in east Belfast attended by Mark Durkan, Gerry Adams, Peter Hain, Dermot Ahern, Hugh Orde and David Trimble among others.
- Brian Ervine, Ervine's elder brother: "He had the guts and the courage to climb out of the traditional trenches, meet the enemy in no-man's land and play ball with him."
- Bertie Ahern (Taoiseach): "(Ervine) was a courageous politician who sought to channel the energies of loyalism in a positive political direction."
- Reg Empey MLA: "Northern Ireland has today lost a unique, charismatic and uncharacteristically spin-free politician."
- Gerry Adams MLA/MP: "He made a valuable and important contribution to moving our society away from conflict."
- George Mitchell (Former US Senator): "His legacy is that he has led loyalism out of the Dark Ages."
- Mark Durkan MLA/MP: ""David emerged from a paramilitary past to pursue a peaceful future. Throughout the talks he played a positive role and worked always to keep loyalism onboard for the Good Friday Agreement." (...) "He also championed a more constructive unionism and argued that we can all gain from political accommodation."
- Trevor Sargent TD: "His death leaves a major vacuum in terms of the quality of political representatives in Northern Ireland. I hope that the legacy of Mr Ervine's bravery will be taken up by others after him."
- Tony Blair (British Prime Minister): "David was a man who, whatever his past, played a major part in this last 10 years in trying to bring peace to Ulster."
- Moloney, Ed (2010). Voices From the Grave: Two Men's War in Ireland. Faber & Faber. p.309
- Moloney, Ed (2010). Voices From the Grave: Two Men's War in Ireland. Faber & Faber. p.315
- Moloney, Ed (2010). Voices From the Grave: Two Men's War in Ireland. Faber & Faber. p.304
- Moloney, Ed (2010). Voices From the Grave: Two Men's War in Ireland. Faber & Faber. p.306
- "Northern Ireland Assembly Official Report, 4 July 2000".
- "Northern Ireland Assembly Official Report, 8 October 2001".
- "Northern Ireland Assembly Official Report, 10 April 2001".
- "Independent Monitoring Commission Website. All reports can be found in publications section".
- "Ervine to join UUP assembly group". BBC. 13 May 2006.
- "Row as Ervine joins UUP grouping". BBC. 15 May 2006.
- "UUP-PUP link 'against the rules'". BBC. 11 September 2006.
- David Irivine critically ill breakingnews.ie
- "PUP leader Ervine dies in hospital". RTÉ. 8 January 2007.
- "PUP leader 'critical' in hospital". BBC. 7 January 2007.
- "PUP's Ervine has died in hospital". BBC Northern Ireland. 7 January 2007.
- "PUP leader Ervine critical in hospital". RTÉ. 7 January 2007.
- "Unionist leader Ervine remains in critical condition". breakingnews.ie. 7 January 2007.
- BBC News
- "Leaders' condolences after Ervine death". RTÉ. 8 January 2007.
- Stormont silent in Ervine tribute BBC (9 January 2007)
- Progressive Unionist leader Ervine dies The Independent, 8 January 2007
- "PUP's Ervine has died in hospital". BreakingNews.ie. 7 January 2007.
- "Reaction to PUP leader's death". BBC. 8 January 2007.
- David Ervine: Uncharted Waters by Henry Sinnerton (2003), ISBN 0-86322-312-5
- Loyalists by Peter Taylor (1999), ISBN 0-7475-4519-7
|Northern Ireland Assembly|
|MLA for Belfast East
|Leader of the Progressive Unionist Party