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David Ervine

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David Ervine
Leader of the
Progressive Unionist Party
In office
April 2002 – 8 January 2007
DeputyDavid Rose
Preceded byHugh Smyth
Succeeded byDawn Purvis
Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly
for Belfast East
In office
25 June 1998 – 8 January 2007
Preceded byNew Creation
Succeeded byDawn Purvis
Member of Belfast City Council
In office
21 May 1997 – 8 January 2007
Preceded byJim Walker
Succeeded byJohn Kyle
Member of the Northern Ireland Forum
In office
30 May 1996 – 25 April 1998
Preceded byForum created
Succeeded byForum dissolved
ConstituencyTop-up list
Personal details
Born(1953-07-21)21 July 1953
Belfast, Northern Ireland
Died8 January 2007(2007-01-08) (aged 53)
Belfast, Northern Ireland
Political partyProgressive Unionist Party
Jeanette Cunningham
(m. 1971)
ChildrenMark Owen

David Ervine (21 July 1953 – 8 January 2007) was a Northern Irish Ulster Loyalist and politician who served as leader of the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) from 2002 to 2007 and was also a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly (MLA) for Belfast East from 1998 to 2007.[1] 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 loyalism and became involved with the PUP. As a leading PUP figure, Ervine helped to deliver the loyalist ceasefire of 1994.

Early life


David Ervine was the youngest of five children born to Walter and Elizabeth Ervine. He was 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.[2] 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, did not last long.[3] Like many in his situation, he grew up closely identifying with his community and absorbed its unionist ideals and opinions. Ervine left Orangefield High School (Orangefield Boys Secondary School) at 14 and, aged 19, joined the UVF, believing this step to be the only way to ensure the defence of the Protestant community after the events of Bloody Friday. A neighbour of Ervine's, William Irvine, who was a member of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), had died in one of the bomb blasts on that day.[4]

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.[5]

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 seven 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 the loyalist 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.[citation needed] 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.

Loyalist ceasefire


Ervine is said[by whom?] 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.



In 1996 Ervine was elected to the Northern Ireland Forum from the regional list, having been an unsuccessful candidate in the East Belfast constituency.[6][7]



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 actively to support the Agreement.[citation needed] 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[who?] of his opponents made references to him having swallowed a dictionary. Some[who?] 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[clarification needed] of Sinn Féin, resisting attempts by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to exclude Sinn Féin from office in July 2000[8] and October 2001.[9] In April 2001, he provoked a direct political attack from the DUP over being the only unionist to vote against a motion condemning the display of lilies commemorating the 1916 Easter Rising at Parliament Buildings.[10] Ervine 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[who?] 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.

Independent Monitoring Commission


In May 2005, the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) recommended a continuation of the financial sanctions on Ervine's Assembly salary imposed following its report of April 2004. The IMC was of the opinion that the UVF and the PUP maintained strong links while the former was 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 Ervine and the PUP. These came in a special report of September 2005 on the violent feud that had erupted between the UVF and the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) 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 significantly to influence the UVF: the party could not have it both ways by associating with an active paramilitary organisation without facing 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 it withdrew its punitive recommendations.[11]


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 Unionist Party. Under the D'Hondt method used for allocating places on the Northern Ireland Executive, this would entitle the Ulster Unionists to an additional place.[12]

The Presiding Officer (Speaker) of the Assembly, 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.[13]

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.[14]



Ervine was a Protestant and identified himself as both Irish and British. He once exclaimed "why can't I be an Irish citizen of the UK?" and remarked: “I am profoundly both British and Irish and those who have to deal with me have to take me on those terms."[1]

Allegations of collusion with security forces


Ervine dismissed allegations of collusion between loyalists and British security forces as "sheer unadulterated nonsense", saying, "there comes a point when the concept insults me, insomuch as that a Provo could lie in bed and with a crystal ball... could pick their targets but a Prod could only do the same if there was an SAS man driving the car".[15]

Ervine cited his own arrest, and the number of UVF members in prison at the time, as evidence that widespread collusion did not exist:

"The Royal Ulster Constabulary arrested me on possession of explosives; now why did they do that if we lived in a process of collusion? When I went into jail there were 240 UVF men in three compounds, packed in like sardines, and the UVF were a relatively small organisation in comparison to some of the others, but they made up a hell of a percentage of that jail. Where’s collusion there?"[15]

Illness and death

David Ervine commemorated in a mural painted at Montrose Street South, Albertbridge Road, east Belfast.

Ervine was reported as having suffered two massive heart attacks and a stroke[16] after attending a football match between Glentoran and Armagh City 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.[17] He was taken to the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald and was later admitted to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast.[18] Ervine died on Monday 8 January 2007.[19] RTÉ News at 9pm and its website had reported the previous evening that he had died that day.[20][21] This incorrect reporting led RTÉ's Northern Editor, Tommie Gorman, to apologise for his error.[17]

Ervine's body was cremated at Roselawn Crematorium after a funeral service on 12 January in East Belfast. It was attended by Mark Durkan, Gerry Adams, Peter Hain, Dermot Ahern, Hugh Orde and David Trimble, among others.[22][23]


  • 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."[24]
  • Reg Empey MLA: "Northern Ireland has today lost a unique, charismatic and uncharacteristically spin-free politician."[24]
  • Gerry Adams MLA/MP: "He made a valuable and important contribution to moving our society away from conflict."[24]
  • George Mitchell (Former US Senator): "His legacy is that he has led loyalism out of the Dark Ages."[25]
  • 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."[26]
  • 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."[27]
  • 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."[28]

See also



  1. ^ a b "Irish and Loyalist". Archived from the original on 31 March 2017. Retrieved 30 March 2017.
  2. ^ Moloney, Ed (2010). Voices From the Grave: Two Men's War in Ireland. Faber & Faber. p.309
  3. ^ Moloney, Ed (2010). Voices From the Grave: Two Men's War in Ireland. Faber & Faber. p.315
  4. ^ Moloney, Ed (2010). Voices From the Grave: Two Men's War in Ireland. Faber & Faber. p.304
  5. ^ Moloney, Ed (2010). Voices From the Grave: Two Men's War in Ireland. Faber & Faber. p.306
  6. ^ "1996 Candidates – East Belfast". Archived from the original on 10 November 2016. Retrieved 6 February 2017.
  7. ^ "1996 Elections – List of Candidates". Archived from the original on 10 November 2016. Retrieved 6 February 2017.
  8. ^ "Northern Ireland Assembly Official Report, 4 July 2000". Archived from the original on 26 September 2006.
  9. ^ "Northern Ireland Assembly Official Report, 8 October 2001". Archived from the original on 26 September 2006.
  10. ^ "Northern Ireland Assembly Official Report, 10 April 2001". Archived from the original on 26 September 2006.
  11. ^ "Independent Monitoring Commission Website. All reports can be found in publications section". Archived from the original on 2 February 2007.
  12. ^ "Ervine to join UUP assembly group". BBC. 13 May 2006. Archived from the original on 19 June 2006. Retrieved 13 May 2006.
  13. ^ "Row as Ervine joins UUP grouping". BBC. 15 May 2006. Archived from the original on 8 March 2008. Retrieved 19 May 2006.
  14. ^ "UUP-PUP link 'against the rules'". BBC. 11 September 2006.
  15. ^ a b Moloney, Ed (2010). Voices From the Grave: Two Men's War in Ireland. Faber & Faber. p.349
  16. ^ David Irivine critically ill Archived 27 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine breakingnews.ie
  17. ^ a b "PUP leader Ervine dies in hospital". RTÉ. 8 January 2007. Archived from the original on 29 September 2012. Retrieved 8 January 2007.
  18. ^ "PUP leader 'critical' in hospital". BBC. 7 January 2007. Archived from the original on 9 January 2007. Retrieved 7 January 2007.
  19. ^ "PUP's Ervine has died in hospital". BBC Northern Ireland. 7 January 2007. Archived from the original on 10 January 2007. Retrieved 8 January 2007.
  20. ^ "PUP leader Ervine critical in hospital". RTÉ. 7 January 2007. Archived from the original on 29 September 2012. Retrieved 7 January 2007.
  21. ^ "Unionist leader Ervine remains in critical condition". breakingnews.ie. 7 January 2007. Archived from the original on 27 September 2007. Retrieved 7 January 2007.
  22. ^ "BBC NEWS – UK – Northern Ireland – Hundreds attend Ervine's funeral". 12 January 2007. Archived from the original on 14 January 2007. Retrieved 12 January 2007.
  23. ^ "The ITV Hub". Archived from the original on 14 January 2007.
  24. ^ a b c "Leaders' condolences after Ervine death". RTÉ. 8 January 2007. Archived from the original on 3 November 2008. Retrieved 8 January 2007.
  25. ^ Stormont silent in Ervine tribute Archived 24 January 2007 at the Wayback Machine BBC (9 January 2007)
  26. ^ Progressive Unionist leader Ervine dies Archived 26 October 2012 at the Wayback Machine The Independent, 8 January 2007
  27. ^ "PUP's Ervine has died in hospital". BreakingNews.ie. 7 January 2007. Archived from the original on 27 September 2007. Retrieved 8 January 2007.
  28. ^ "Reaction to PUP leader's death". BBC. 8 January 2007. Archived from the original on 23 January 2007. Retrieved 4 March 2007.


Northern Ireland Forum
New forum Regional Member
Forum dissolved
Northern Ireland Assembly
New assembly MLA for Belfast East
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Leader of the Progressive Unionist Party
Succeeded by