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Tuesday, March 16, 1999 Published at 15:13 GMT

David Ervine: Leaving the past behind

David Ervine: The changing face of loyalism

By BBC News Online's Gary Duffy

David Ervine provides some of the clearest evidence that the talks which concluded with the Good Friday Agreement involved a wider range of political opinion than had ever been seen before.

[ image: UVF: One of Northern Ireland's most notorious paramilitary organisations.]
UVF: One of Northern Ireland's most notorious paramilitary organisations.
He is the chief spokesman for the Progressive Unionist Party, which represents the views of the Protestant paramilitary organisation, the Ulster Volunteer Force.

A Belfast city councillor and member of the new Northern Ireland Assembly, Mr Ervine previously served a five-year jail sentence in the Maze prison.

He was convicted in his early 20s when he was stopped by the security forces in a car containing a bomb. He was released from jail in 1980.

Following the decision of the main Protestant paramilitary organisations to call a ceasefire in 1994, he became a highly-influential figure in loyalist politics. His media profile has far exceeded the degree of electoral support his party attracts.

The Search for Peace
In the past, he was high on an IRA death list and had to move home on a number of occasions. He has also been threatened by loyalist organisations.

While he has argued in favour of compromise with his nationalist opponents, Mr Ervine is still passionately opposed to a united Ireland and believes the loyalist ceasefire depends on the security of Northern Ireland's position within the UK.

'Leave sectarianism behind'

He has encouraged his community to separate politics from religion and to support a modern form of non-sectarian unionism "free from the Pope, the Queen and King Billy".

Despite many doubts in the Protestant community about the Good Friday Agreement, Mr Ervine has said he believes it represents a good deal for unionism.

In the lengthy controversy about the decommissioning of paramilitary weapons, he acknowledged the difficulties faced by the IRA in handing over its guns and explosives.

But he also called on the republican organisation to make clear it did not intend to return to war. Greater flexibility, he seemed to suggest, would open the way for the creation of a cabinet or executive including Sinn Fein, with the possibility of a handover of weapons at a later date.

Just how far David Ervine has come was graphically illustrated in Peter Taylor's BBC documentary Loyalists, which was broadcast in 1999.

Speaking about his paramilitary past, he was asked: "Were you prepared to kill?", he replied: "Without question ... totally. My decision and made by me and me alone."

As a politician, Mr Ervine is now widely recognised as a man whose words and actions are meant to ensure Northern Ireland does not return to that kind of chilling attitude to violence.

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In this section

David Trimble: More enemies than friends

John Hume: Midwife to the peace process

Mo Mowlam: London's eternal optimist

Gerry Adams: Between war and peace

Ian Paisley: Ulster's No man

John de Chastelain: Arms and the man

Mallon: Calling a spade a spade

David Ervine: Leaving the past behind