Tuesday 20 November 2018

Progressive Unionist leader Ervine dies

David Ervine, leader of the loyalist Progressive Unionist Party in Northern Ireland, died in hospital today. Mr Ervine, who suffered a heart attack, a stroke and brain haemorrhage, was 53 and had been on a life support machine for 24 hours.

David Ervine, leader of the loyalist Progressive Unionist Party in Northern Ireland, died in hospital today.

Mr Ervine, who suffered a heart attack, a stroke and brain haemorrhage, was 53 and had been on a life support machine for 24 hours.The PUP chief was a central figure in securing the 1994 loyalist paramilitary ceasefire.His wife Jeanette and two sons were by his bedside when he died at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast.Ken Wilkinson, one of his closest political associates, said he was devastated by his party leader's death.Mr Wilkinson said: "I don't think Northern Ireland realises the sacrifices this man made."He was a good friend to me, but more than that, it's a sad a loss to the people of Northern Ireland."When they look back in history, they will see what David Ervine contributed.''Mr Ervine, a member of the Stormont Assembly for East Belfast, was taken to hospital after suffering a heart attack at his home yesterday.As his health worsened, he was transferred from the Ulster Hospital on the outskirts of the city to the Royal Victoria.Mr Ervine led the PUP, which is aligned to the loyalist paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force, since 2002.He became recognised as one of working class loyalism's most articulate voices after coming to public attention following the ceasefire called in response to the Provisional IRA's first halt to its violent campaign.Like some Sinn Fein representatives elected to the Stormont Parliament after the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, Mr Ervine moved into politics after being imprisoned for paramilitary crimes.He served time in the Maze Prison near Lisburn, Co Antrim, after being arrested driving a car bomb in 1974.Mr Ervine said he was sucked into paramilitarism after the IRA killed nine people on Bloody Friday in July 1972.During his time in prison, he studied to Open University degree level and following his release became active in the UVF's political wing.A passionate politician, he supported the Good Friday peace deal, having participated in the talks which led to them chaired by Senator George Mitchell.In 1998 he captured an Assembly seat in East Belfast along with his party colleague Billy Hutchinson, who won a seat in the north of the city.Five years later, while Mr Ervine retained his seat, Mr Hutchinson lost his.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said that Mr Ervine 'was a courageous politician who sought to channel the energies of loyalism in a positive political direction'.

Reaction to PUP leader's death

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern

"I was greatly saddened to learn of the death of David Ervine.

"David Ervine was a courageous politician who sought to channel the energies of loyalism in a positive political direction.

"He was an enormously valuable and important voice for his community. He was a passionate defender of the most disadvantaged in society and not solely those in his own constituency in East Belfast."

Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern TD

"I have heard with great regret of the untimely death of David Ervine.

"Through crucial years of the peace process his has been a voice of reconciliation and common sense. His remarkable contribution to the search for a lasting peace on this island was nowhere more evident than in his courageous support for the Good Friday Agreement.

"Having made his own political odyssey, David has worked patiently for years to transform Loyalism and to forge a new voice for his community. But he will be particularly remembered and respected for his readiness to reach out to others outside his own community and for his commitment to dialogue in place of old hatreds.

"Those of us who got to know David through the peace process will sorely miss a man who brought a unique humanity and vitality to our deliberations. His loss at this time of intensive effort to restore the institutions will be keenly felt by his many friends.

"To the members of his family I extend my deepest condolences on their bereavement."

Progressive Unionist Party Statement

"He turned no one away and worked tirelessly to achieve his best.

"Loyalism has lost its most articulate spokesperson.

"Unionism has lost the most progressive voice of this generation.

"Politics has lost a statesman. Our peace process has lost its most optimistic advocate and Ulster has lost a devoted son."

British Prime Minister Tony Blair

"David was a man who, whatever his past, played a major part in this last 10 years in trying to bring peace to Ulster.

"His incisive wit and clear if often controversial analysis of Northern Ireland politics marked him out.

"Brought up in sectarian politics, he ended up being a persistent and intelligent persuader for cross-community partnership and he will be sorely missed."

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams

“David Ervine played a key role within loyalism throughout the development of the peace process. He made a valuable and important contribution to moving our society away from conflict.

“I was shocked yesterday evening when I heard the news that David Ervine had been taken ill.

“On behalf of Sinn Féin I would wish to extend my condolences to his family, friends and party colleagues at this difficult time.”

Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain

"He wanted to solve problems not simply restate them, always looking for a way forward.

"He had grown away from the past and worked tirelessly to make Northern Ireland a better place.

"His loss will be keenly felt within loyalism. He gave loyalists a voice and influence at the highest level and he was crucial in taking loyalism along the often difficult path to a lasting peace."

Peter Bunting, Irish Congress of Trades Unions

"David Ervine was one of the finest and bravest of his generation.

"His journey would have been an inspiration to more people in a fairer world, but that it inspired at least some to embrace change and progressive politics over the easy temptations of sectarianism was and is a giant monument to the man¿s decency and intelligence and his basic humanity.

"He never lost his anger, though, but he directed his rage towards the injustices that keep so many people across our society ignorant and powerless."

Ulster Unionist Party leader Sir Reg Empey

"Northern Ireland has today lost a unique, charismatic and uncharacteristically spin-free politician. I have known David for many years, initially at Belfast City Hall then at the Assembly.

"David was always passionate about East Belfast, its people and his culture and heritage.

"He realised that violence belonged in the past and was keen to play his part in helping loyalists make the transition towards exclusively peaceful and democratic means."

East Belfast DUP MP Peter Robinson

"David had always been an able, energetic and committed representative eager to improve the lives of his constituents especially those who were disadvantaged or underprivileged.

"He was a staunch defender of the interests of East Belfast and even those who saw politics from a different angle of vision would openly acknowledge that he genuinely wanted to see a new era of peace and stability in Northern Ireland and sought to use his role as an elected representative to work towards that goal."

SDLP leader Mark Durkan

"David Ervine was a great character and he always showed real character. This news is a tragedy.

"All of us who knew him are deeply shocked. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this time.

"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."

Green Party leader Trevor Sargent TD

"I would like to extend my sympathies to Mr Ervine's family. My thoughts and prayers are with them after his untimely death.

"I met Mr Ervine in the course of his work on the Peace Process. He was an erudite and refreshingly straight-talking public representative. He did not speak unless he had something substantive to say. He was also a very brave politician who worked hard to build bridges to a lasting peace.

"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."

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