Tuesday, January 9, 2007

David Ervine

On the topic of Ervine's premature and ill-timed death, Malcolm rues his ill-advised excursion into the Slugger O'Toole blogsite, that curious admixture of decent commonsense and splenetic bile, yesterday.

Malcolm finds (now, perhaps, needs to say "found") the character of Ervine one of the more intriguing of the Northern Irish operators. After all, it is not many who earn fond words equally from Blair, Ahern, Reg Empey, Gerry Adams and Hugh Orde: notice, however, the curious absence, at least so far, of DUP Christian forgiveness. [A fair and rounded obituary is on the Irish Independendent website, registration necessary: this may be from the fair Italian hand of David McKittrick, who wrote the accompanying news-piece].

The first issue to address is Ervine's terrorist past. He freely admitted his long-term involvement with the UVF. He was put away when he was caught driving a bomb-loaded car (and forced to disarm his own bomb, by the simple method of attaching a rope to him, and ordering him to get on with it). He then served sixty-odd months in the Maze.

Inside, he was one of the "progressives" who started to rethink the loyalist approach. This, in itself, goes against the formula. The prison library of the Maze was donated to the Belfast Linen Hall Library. Allegedly (and Malcolm admits no personal experience), the loyalist contribution was largely body-building, while the Provos provided the political tracts.

On his emergence, Ervine became one of the few effective loyalist communicators, notable for his fairness and open-mindedness. His bald head on the screen was a guarantee that some sense would be offered, some engagement made.

He was elected to the Assembly, and then to Belfast City Council, as a member of the PUP. He developed into a useful mouthpiece for his home-turf of east Belfast, and was one of the few coherent leftists in the Northern arena. This made him the legatee of a long tradition of east Belfast radicalism, stretching back to the ILP of Ireland, the syndicalists who espoused James Connolly's Socialism Made Easy. This tradition, Malcolm maintains, is proof positive that politics in the Black North can transcend sectarianism.

By the time of Ervine's death, the PUP had withered to a shell. He had failed to decouple the party from the UVF, or to bring about decommissioning of the UVF. His need to keep credibility with the gang-lords meant that he was less than vocal about their continued resort to violence. Whether he could have overcome these problems, and enunciated a comprehensive ideology remains unknown. His frustrated attempt to switch to Empey's UUP, if only for political advantage in the Assembly, can be read in different ways. The sad truth is that little threatens the nauseating Robinson's and the DUP's hold on this archetypal working-class Westminster constituency (which has been held by Unionists, courtesy of the Orange Card and a sectarian split, since its creation).

Ervine was no Brutus (though both were too close to political murder for comfort) but Malcolm feels the ambiguities of this complex man deserve a eulogy. Allowing a quibble over that obvious adjective:
His life was gentle, and the elements
So mix'd in him that Nature might stand up
And say to all the world 'This was a man!'
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