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Last Updated: Sunday, 30 October 2005, 18:38 GMT
UVF 'juggernaut needs careful steering'
Martina Purdy
By Martina Purdy
BBC Northern Ireland political correspondent

A colleague was poring over the News Letter the other day when he was struck by a headline involving the UVF.

It read: "Water charges a concern for UVF."
David Ervine and Bertie Ahern
David Ervine met Bertie Ahern on Wednesday

"Shurely shome mishtake," he muttered, marvelling that the UVF - set up to defend the union - was now preoccupied with this bread and butter issue.

It may indeed be a measure of how far down the road of peace the UVF has come. While it has some way yet to travel, the PUP leader David Ervine suggested there was reason to be optimistic.

Speaking on Inside Politics, he claimed the organisation was no threat to the wider political situation, that is the peace process: "Every piece of evidence I have is positive in respect of the use of violence for political ends," he said.

Loyalists gathering for a Love Ulster rally in Belfast's Woodvale area may be motivated as much by fear as love, hence the desire to recapture that elusive grail of unionist unity

He also paid tribute to Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern for calling for inclusivity and urging that those within loyalism who want to pay a constructive role be given time and space to do so.

Mr Ervine contrasted these remarks with what he called the "finger-wagging" of other nationalists, notably the SDLP.

'Political unionism'

Mr Ervine was speaking before the Loyalist Commission issued a statement on Sunday saying it believed the feud between the UVF and LVF - which saw the UVF killing four people - had ended.

It would appear it is going to take some time for the UVF to disappear and disarm.

Mr Ervine hinted as much when he suggested the UVF was a juggernaut that needed to be steered and set down slowly.

It is, said the PUP leader, a matter of confidence. This may take some time to build, as old fears do not wither easily.

DUP leader Ian Paisley
Ian Paisley will address his constituency association next month

Loyalists gathering for a Love Ulster rally in Belfast's Woodvale area may be motivated as much by fear as love, hence the desire to recapture that elusive grail of unionist unity.

It is not a treasure Mr Ervine values. In fact, he went so far as to say he detested it, explaining that it was time for diversity in unionism and political unionism.

"We need to create a politics that allows that diversity to grow and stop being afraid and stop being cowed by the politics of fear," he said.

It is the type of message that the government would dearly love the DUP leader to deliver. Ian Paisley will be addressing the annual dinner of his North Antrim constituency association next month.

Party conference

It is the same event in which he declared he wanted to see the IRA humiliated and wearing sackcloth and ashes.

Some blamed the speech on scuppering the 2004 power-sharing deal, although this was always more likely to falter on the demand for photographic evidence of decommissioning no matter how nicely the DUP leader asked.

UVF mural
The UVF murdered four people this summer

The DUP, interestingly, has moved its party conference to next February - just after the IMC is due to report.

The party insists, however, this is due to logistics not politics.

What is certain is the forthcoming DUP annual conference is going to be monitored extremely closely for the mood music.

Will the DUP leader, in the words of Mr Ervine, lift his people towards the hills, or encourage them to look at their boots?

The government remains hopeful that the DUP will do a deal next year, but it is not only unionists who are not confident about that.

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