LVF to disband, UVF may follow

  • 26 October 2005
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The meeting between Bertie Ahern and Progressive Unionist Party leader David Ervine on Wednesday (26 October) signals a forward, and potentially significant, step towards achieving the disbandment of loyalist paramilitary groups.

Ervine was expected to tell Ahern of loyalist concerns over the peace process as speculation mounts that the PUP's military wing, the Ulster Volunteer Force, is preparing to disband in the coming months.

The Loyalist Volunteer Force, who have been involved in a violent feud with the UVF for the past six months, is expected to publicly announce its disbandment within the next week, setting 11 November, Armistice Day, as the date for its dissolution.

That has increased pressure on the UVF to do likewise, who since March have used the feud as an excuse not to stand down their own organisation.

However, the UVF has been involved in an internal consultation exercise over its future for the past year and is expected to announce an end to its "military activities" within the next fortnight.

Well-placed loyalist sources have said that within the coming weeks the UVF will make a public statement declaring not only an end to its violence but an intention to reassess its role.

Last week David Ervine said the UVF needed to be given "time and space" to work out its future role and added that he believed their guns would soon fall silent.

Although the UVF will ultimately bow to pressure from unionist opinion, Ervine's meeting with Ahern will be analysed by the UVF, already sceptical of the peace process, as an indicator of their future political role, should they decide to disband.

However, Ahern will also have to decide if he is talking to a politician who can genuinely deliver the UVF guns or the leader of a micro-party, who has just one per cent of the vote and is on political skid-row.

Sometimes Ervine claims that he has no influence over the UVF, of which he was once a member, while at other times he says the only reason people should listen to his political analysis is that he can keep the UVF's guns silent.

In recent times his party's vote has plummeted to just one per cent and Ervine has been at pains to distance himself from the violent, often drug-related, activities of the UVF.

Since the UVF was stripped of its ceasefire status in September, following involvement in riots in Belfast, the group's activities have fallen under the political spotlight of other unionists.

Last weekend Ulster Unionist Party leader Sir Reg Empey used his party's annual conference to make a call for loyalist groups to decommission.

It is the first time since the peace process began that a senior unionist politician has given the issue of loyalist decommissioning such prominence.

Although the UDA has been making bellicose statements in recent weeks, it is expected that they too will fall in line behind the UVF and LVF should both groups disband.

Colm Heatley