Progressive Unionist Party

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For the political group founded in 1938, see Ulster Progressive Unionist Association.
For the Egyptian political group, see National Progressive Unionist Party.
Progressive Unionist Party
Leader Billy Hutchinson
Chairman Brian Lacey
Founded 1979 (1979)
Headquarters 299 Newtownards Road, Belfast, BT4 1AG,
County Antrim,
Northern Ireland
Ideology British unionism
Democratic socialism[1][2]
Social democracy
Political position Left-wing
Colours Red & blue
Northern Irish seats in the House of Commons
0 / 18
European Parliament (Northern Irish seats)
0 / 3
Northern Ireland Assembly
0 / 108
Local government in Northern Ireland
4 / 462
Politics of Northern Ireland
Political parties

The Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) is a small unionist political party in Northern Ireland. It was formed from the Independent Unionist Group operating in the Shankill area of Belfast, becoming the PUP in 1979. Linked to the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and Red Hand Commando (RHC), it was for a time the only left-wing party of unionism in Northern Ireland, with its main support base in the loyalist working class communities of Belfast.[3]

Party leaders[edit]

Leader From To
1 Hugh Smyth 1979 2002
2 David Ervine 2002 2007
3 Dawn Purvis 2007 2010
4 Brian Ervine 2010 2011
5 Billy Hutchinson 2011 Incumbent


The party was founded by Hugh Smyth in the mid-1970s as the "Independent Unionist Group". In 1977, two prominent members of the Northern Ireland Labour Party, David Overend and Jim McDonald, joined. Overend subsequently wrote many of the group's policy documents, including much of the NILP's platform.[4][5]

In 1979, Smyth, Overend, McDonald and John Irvine undertook a speaking tour of Canada on behalf of the party. Overend also met with United States State Department officials, but Smyth and McDonald were refused US visas.[6] Later that year, the group was renamed the "Progressive Unionist Party".

The party has had a degree of electoral success. In 1994 PUP leader Hugh Smyth became Lord Mayor of Belfast, and in the 1996 elections to the Northern Ireland Forum they secured two seats, with Smyth and David Ervine both being elected. The PUP supported the Belfast Agreement and in the 1998 election to the Northern Ireland Assembly they also won two seats, with representatives Billy Hutchinson and David Ervine elected from the Belfast North and East constituencies respectively. Hutchinson lost his seat in the 2003 election, leaving Ervine as their sole Assembly representative. This was followed by a poor showing in the Northern Ireland local election of 2005, where Smyth and Ervine were their only two members to retain their seats on local authorities, and the party now seems to be in a state of decline.

Their position on the left of the political spectrum differentiates them from other unionist parties (such as the Ulster Unionist Party and the Democratic Unionist Party) which are ideologically right-wing.[7]

Following a loyalist feud between the UVF and Loyalist Volunteer Force, in which four men were murdered by the UVF in Belfast and recognition of the UVF's ceasefire was withdrawn by the British government, the PUP debated ending its "special relationship" with the UVF. This was defeated in a closed vote at the party's annual conference in October 2005.

In March 2006, the Chairwoman of the PUP, Dawn Purvis, a research associate at the University of Ulster, was appointed as an independent member of the Northern Ireland Policing Board.

David Ervine died following a heart attack on 8 January 2007. On 22 January 2007 Dawn Purvis was chosen as party leader.[8] She is the second woman to lead a unionist party in Northern Ireland (after Anne Dickson's short-lived leadership of the Unionist Party of Northern Ireland following Brian Faulkner's retirement). Dr John Kyle was co-opted on to Belfast City Council to fill Ervine's seat. The party did not field any candidates for the 2010 general elections - party members were encouraged to vote for a candidate of their choice.

Assembly elections, March 2007[edit]

The election was for 108 seats spread evenly across 18 constituencies.

The PUP fielded three candidates: Elaine Martin in North Down, Andrew Park in Belfast South and Dawn Purvis in Belfast East. Overall the party polled 3,822 votes or 0.6% of the votes cast in Northern Ireland, down 0.6% from the elections of 2003.

Dawn Purvis was elected to represent Belfast East, polling 3,045 votes (10.3%), finishing 5th out of the 15 candidates.

Retention of weapons, May 2007 and UVF/RHC decommissioning[edit]

On 3 May 2007 Gusty Spence read out the statement by the Ulster Volunteer Force announcing it will keep its weapons and a warning that activities could "provoke another generation of loyalists toward armed resistance".

However, the arms decommissioning body has said this did not meet the requirements set out in government legislation. The Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD) urged the UVF/RHC to work with it to destroy its weaponry.

It said it welcomed the statement, but was "concerned by their intention to deal with their arms without the involvement of the IICD".

In 2009 the UVF/RHC fully decommissioned all their weapons under the supervision of the IICD.

2010 resignations[edit]

In June 2010, Dawn Purvis resigned as leader, and as a member, of the party because of its relationship with the UVF and a recent murder attributed to that group.[9] On 28 August 2010 the former deputy leader, David Rose, resigned from the party. He cited the recent murder attributed to the UVF and his belief that the party was "becoming increasingly conservative in outlook.[10]

Relationship with UVF/RHC[edit]

During a meeting in Belfast on 29 September 2010, members of the party agreed to maintain its relationship with the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Red Hand Commando.[11][12] Despite these links, party leader Billy Hutchinson acknowledges that most UVF members vote for the larger Democratic Unionist Party.[13]

Assembly elections, May 2011[edit]

The election was for 108 seats spread evenly across 18 constituencies. The party failed to regain the East Belfast seat and are unrepresented in the Assembly. Leader Brian Ervine resigned soon after the election and was replaced by veteran west Belfast activist Billy Hutchinson in October 2011.[14]

Notable members[edit]

Former UVF member Billy Giles, whose biography is told in the first chapter of journalist Peter Taylor's book Loyalists, having spent 14 years in the Maze Prison for a sectarian killing, was part of PUP's negotiating team at the Good Friday Agreement in April 1998.[15] Others involved in this process included Billy Mitchell,David Ervine, Jim McDonald, William 'Billy' Greer, Winston Churchill Rea and William "Plum" Smyth; all former UVF and Red Hand Commando members.

Electoral performance[edit]

1997 UK general election[edit]

Constituency Candidate Votes  % Position
Belfast South Ervine, DavidDavid Ervine 5,687 14.4 3
East Antrim Donaldson, BillyBilly Donaldson 1,757 5.1 5
South Antrim Smyth, HughHugh Smyth 3,490 9.0 4

2001 UK general election[edit]

Constituency Candidate Votes  % Position
Belfast East Ervine, DavidDavid Ervine 3,669 10.0 4
Belfast South Purvis, DawnDawn Purvis 1,112 2.9 6

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Edwards, Aaron (2007). "Democratic Socialism and Sectarianism: The Northern Ireland Labour Party and Progressive Unionist Party Compared". Politics 27 (1): 24–31. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9256.2007.00275.x. 
  2. ^ New Statesman: Volume 131, Issues 4569-4576. London: New Statesman. 2002. p. 56. 
  3. ^ "Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) - Your Questions". Archived from the original on 6 December 2009. Retrieved 2010-06-15. 
  4. ^ Aaron Edwards, A history of the Northern Ireland Labour Party, p.219
  5. ^ Ed Moloney, Voices from the Grave: Two Men's War in Ireland, p.396
  6. ^ "Alderman Hugh Smyth", Northern Ireland Office (1980)
  7. ^
  8. ^ New PUP leader seeks Ervine seat, BBC News, 23 January 2007. Retrieved 2009-08-27.
  9. ^ "Purvis quits PUP over murder of loyalist Moffett". BBC News. 2010-06-03. Retrieved 2010-06-15. 
  10. ^ "Leading PUP member, David Rose, quits party". BBC News. 2010-08-28. Retrieved 2010-09-01. 
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^ Hutchinson elected PUP leader
  15. ^ Taylor, Peter (1999). Loyalists. London: Bloomsbury. p.8

External links[edit]

Previous logos of the Progressive Unionist Party[edit]

Red Hand Commando