Page last updated at 08:57 GMT, Saturday, 23 July 2005 09:57 UK

Loyalist feud sees debate put on hold

Martina Purdy
By Martina Purdy
BBC Northern Ireland political correspondent

Seven years on from the Good Friday Agreement and the loyalist parties who helped negotiate it have not fared particularly well.

The Ulster Democratic Party is out of business and the UDA remains active.

The Progressive Unionist Party is hanging on "by the skin of its teeth", according to its leader, while the UVF continues to grow.

The UDA, UVF and the Loyalist Volunteer Force - which split from the UVF - are all engaged in criminality and in violence.

What is more the UVF and LVF are involved in a bloody feud, which has claimed two lives this month.

The PUP leader, David Ervine, speaking on BBC Radio Ulster's Inside Politics, predicted it is going to get much worse.

David Ervine
PUP leader David Ervine believes the feud will get worse

In fact, he suggests that the UVF has concluded that the state has created the LVF and that it is being controlled by intelligence services who are agitating within the unionist community.

What is more, Mr Ervine warned that the UVF's priority is taking on the LVF.

Mr Ervine told Inside Politics that rightly or wrongly, the UVF has concluded that the state is controlling the LVF and is deliberately keeping the UVF's focus away from peace.

He said until the problem is dealt with everything else is on hold.

Asked how deeply the UVF is debating its future, Mr Ervine said there was no longer any debate: "There was a consultation going on which has stopped. It stopped because they're busy doing other things, it would seem."

The PUP leader, who was instrumental in delivering the 1994 ceasefire, said the UVF was not listening to him at the moment.

He rejected the IMC's assessment that he was not doing enough to stop loyalist paramilitarism, and even suggested the intelligence services were misleading the commission for their own ends.

The Northern Ireland secretary, Peter Hain, on the back of the Independent Monitoring Commission's report, is likely to dock the PUP's office allowance, which is equivalent to around 27,000.

Mr Ervine admitted he might sound paranoid about the intelligence services but claimed there was plenty of evidence of loyalists being arrested and then walking free and insisted questions need to be asked about what was really going on.

UVF mural
At the moment the UVF is not discussing its future

While loyalists have little or no influence on the political process, they can destabilise the peace process.

What happens if the UDA is drawn into this feud? It too has been involved in fighting with the LVF in the past - and it is not inconceivable that the UDA and UVF will find common ground over the issue of tackling the LVF.

Historically, when loyalists have fought each other, they have tried to distract from this by attacking the Catholic community.

The IRA will not shed any tears over loyalist infighting and knows that the feud means republicans will be first with the historic "going-out-of-business" statement.

The republican movement has spent several months debating its future and speculation has continued for weeks that an announcement from the IRA is imminent.

That endless speculation keeps Sinn Fein in the headlines, which in itself is useful to republicans.

Whether it comes sooner or later - and some are now predicting the end of the summer - one thing is certain.

The statement will come at a time when it most suits the IRA, not the governments and not the DUP.






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