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Last Updated: Tuesday, 9 January 2007, 09:51 GMT
Grandstand memories of 'man of peace'
Mark Simpson
By Mark Simpson

I bumped into David Ervine on Boxing Day at Windsor Park.

David Ervine
David Ervine has died at the age of 53
Dressed in a brown flat-cap, smoking his pipe and surrounded by his mates from east Belfast, he was among the fans in the bottom tier of the North Stand, watching his beloved Glentoran against Linfield.

At half-time, we shared a bag of wine gums, and spoke for 15 minutes about everything from the referee, to Stormont to political satire at the BBC.

As someone who has been living in England for the past two years, the only time I had seen him recently was when fun was being poked at him on 'Folks on the Hill' TV show which I watch every week on BBC News Online.

I told him that I didn't think his character on the programme was fair - he was much more wordy, and much more verbose in real life.

He saw the funny side.

"You gotta be able to laugh at yourself," he said. "I know some people at Stormont think the show has destroyed them, but I don't see it like that."

He had quite a journey, and one which included frequent trips to the Irish Republic, Downing Street and the White House
Whatever you say about David Ervine, he had that rare political quality: he could take a joke - even at his own expense.

One of the first times I met him was after the first IRA ceasefire had ended in 1996.

We'd both been on a late-night BBC radio programme, he couldn't get a taxi home and I offered him a lift as I was going home through east Belfast.

Not thinking about my passenger, I took my usual short cut through the nationalist Short Strand area.

I could see Ervine sinking lower and lower into his seat.

He was often derided as "the man with the moustache who swallowed the dictionary", but he was seen further afield as a courageous man of peace
For once, the great communicator was extremely quiet.

At the time, he was emerging as the best-known face of political loyalism, and even at 1am in the morning, he wanted to ensure that no-one decided to take a shot at it.

Little did I think then that 10 years later, I would be sitting talking to David Ervine MLA, Progressive Unionist Party leader and sometime member of the Ulster Unionist Assembly group.

He had quite a journey, and one which included frequent trips to the Irish Republic, Downing Street and the White House.

Spotlight

He enjoyed the spotlight, in fact he revelled in it, and rarely could resist a microphone.

He also liked a pint of Guinness, but what he liked more was talking.

And as he travelled to Dublin, London and Washington there was no shortage of influential people willing to listen.

The former UVF bomber may have had some enemies in Belfast, and was often derided as "the man with the moustache who swallowed the dictionary", but he was seen further afield as a courageous man of peace.

David Ervine pictured in 1998
David Ervine pictured in 1998, the year of the Agreement
As the second-half at Windsor Park was about to kick off, I asked him about the future.

He admitted to being worried about holding onto his seat in East Belfast in the forthcoming Assembly election.

He expected a difficult fight, not just with the DUP but also his new-found allies in the UUP.

"It'll be a huge battle," he said, with a faint smile, a raised eyebrow and a long puff on his pipe.

"But the most important thing is that the (peace) process survives - not David Ervine."

Apart from some unrepeatable remarks about the referee, those were the last words I heard him say.




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