The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Progressive Unionist Party
Rebuttal of the
First Report of the International Monitoring Commission

Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) • April 2004

1. The Progressive Unionist Party

1.1 The Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) is a democratic political party whose policies are based on the principles of democratic socialism. It was formed in 1977 by Independent Unionists, ex- Northern Ireland Labour Party members and a number of ex-prisoners associated with the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and Red Hand Commando (RHC). The motivation behind the formation of the PUP was the dissatisfaction with the larger unionist parties, namely the Ulster Unionist Party and the Democratic Unionist Party. These parties provided little or no leadership to disadvantaged working class unionist communities and their policies were of no benefit. Their rhetoric was one of ‘impending doom’, warning of dark times ahead, none of which was said by the Loyalist paramilitary groups. The PUP sought to articulate the views of the working class, while at the same time, introducing policies that improved their quality of life.

1.2 The Party Leader and Executive Council are elected bi-annually by the membership at the Party Conference, and are responsible for setting goals and objectives for the party and for overseeing the work of sub-committees. The Party Council, comprised of representatives from each Constituency Association, meets with the Deputy Leader each month to discuss and review policy issues. The political policies of the party are decided by popular vote by party members at the Annual Party Conference. These are posted on the party website

1.3 During the talks that eventually led to the Good Friday Agreement (GFA), the Progressive Unionist Party expressed its commitment to the principles of non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means. We have reiterated that commitment many times since then, and do so again. We have taken our responsibilities very seriously and have fulfilled our commitment under the GFA to provide political analysis to the leaderships of the UVF and RHC. As our manifesto and various policy documents testify, we are committed to the concept of ‘conflict transformation’, whereby we use all our skills and influence to encourage those who would normally use armed force to achieve political objectives, on to a path, which uses democratic principles to change political outcomes.

2. The work of the Party and individual Members in Conflict Transformation

2.1 The practical work of individual PUP members is testament to our commitment to conflict transformation and the transformation of loyalism. Below are some examples of our members work.

2.2 It is easy to complain about ongoing paramilitary activity and to both theorise about and prescribe methods of addressing such activity. It is not so easy to put such theories and prescriptions into practice. Conflict transformation is a process in which we seek to move from violent responses to conflict to non- violent responses. It is about working to transform the nature of the conflict from violent encounter to democratic exchange, and about transforming the nature of relationships between people in conflict. It is a process that looks for generational changes rather than quick fix solutions that last for a time and disappear.

2.3 Restorative Justice

Progressive Unionist Party members were instrumental in setting up community restorative justice programmes in West Belfast, East Belfast, North Belfast and North Down. This was done in co-operation with local PSNI, statutory agencies, church and community representatives, the ex-prisoner community and paramilitary leaders. Each restorative justice programme being developed within loyalist communities is managed by multi-agency Management Committees, which include representatives from the PSNI. While paramilitary groups have bought-in to the restorative justice model they are not represented on any Management Committee and have no input to decision-making.

In the past, communities sought paramilitaries to deliver instant justice, in the form of beatings, shootings and expulsions, to those accused of anti-social activities. The rationale of community restorative justice programmes is to provide a non-violent alternative, which works within the Rule of Law and complements the work of the PSNI and the Courts, for any community that seeks to end all so-called ‘punishment’ attacks. Independent evaluations carried out to date show that the restorative approach to addressing socially harmful activity is having a positive effect. We acknowledge that much more needs to be done in this area and members of both the Party Executive and Constituency Associations are making an important and positive contribution to the management and development of each programme.

We fully endorse the opinions of political, church and civic leaders who oppose so-called ‘punishment’ beatings and expulsions. But genuine opposition must go beyond mere verbal condemnation. Genuine opposition demands practical action on the ground, and that is where society will find members of the Progressive Unionist Party.

2.4 Community Mediation

Progressive Unionist Party members have set up and maintain various community mediation projects, which seek to encourage local people at community level to develop non-violent responses to conflict. The Party Executive has organised training for its members and for constituency workers in the principles and practice of mediation and alternative dispute resolution. This has enhanced the capacity of party members to facilitate mediation in a variety of local disputes, including the issue of contentious parades, and to respond to requests from the PSNI and other statutory bodies such as the Parades Commission, to intervene in conflict situations that have the potential to escalate into violence.

2.5 Ex-Prisoner Interpretive Centre (EPIC)

The party has worked with EPIC to support the reintegration of former prisoners back into the mainstream of community and economic life. The reintegration of politically motivated ex-prisoners is essential to ensure a peaceful and stable society. Indeed, a key aspect of the peace process has been to encourage ex-prisoners to take on productive and active roles in their local communities. EPIC supports many ex-prisoners throughout their individual process of reintegration. They provide help with training, education, housing and welfare rights. All are essential services in the transformation process. The contribution that ex-prisoners have made in embedding non-violent approaches to conflict often goes unnoticed. Many ex-prisoners work in all areas of conflict transformation. One project due to be launched is the You-Can project, which, in conjunction with schools, aims to dissuade young people from joining paramilitary organisations through the testimony of former combatants.

2.6 Interface Projects

Sectarian unrest and violence have been well documented over the last number of years. Members have used their influence during ‘Fire-fighting’, bringing violence to an end. They have been available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to help prevent recurrences. The calm summer of last year did not happen by accident. PUP members, ex-combatants and ex-prisoners have worked tirelessly behind the scenes, putting together projects that aim to end the unrest and violence between the affected communities. It is extremely hard work trying to bring two sides of a community together particularly when there is no desire or willingness.

Dialogue between loyalists and republicans, which continues throughout the year, is crucial to the task of addressing interface conflict. Members of the Party along with former UVF/RHC prisoners have been to the forefront in engaging with their republican counterparts in a wide variety of inter-community initiatives and dialogue.

2.7 Civic Society

The Progressive Unionist Party has continually broken ground that others now walk on. Seeing ‘dialogue’ as an absolute necessity in ending violence and encouraging peace and democracy members of the Party have worked with key members of civic society to help develop civic and community responses to paramilitary activity. As a result a number of initiatives involving the representatives of civic society working together with community activists and representatives of ex. prisoner groups have been established in the Greater Belfast Area, and beyond. While we acknowledge that many of these initiatives could not have developed if church, trade union, business community and other civic leaders had not become involved, we are not overstating the case when we suggest that party members were the catalyst that led to action.

In talking to church leaders, members of the business community, trades unions and many, many others, the party has helped to encourage a progressive attitude to ‘Talks’ and to the whole ‘peace process’.

2.8 Transforming Loyalist Communities

The Party Executive has developed an education programme based on the theme “Transforming Loyalist Communities” which seeks to encourage young loyalists and members of paramilitary organisations to examine both the concept and the need for social transformation and the need to address those negative aspects of loyalism that frustrate community and economic development and undermine the moral fibre of their communities. The programme has been delivered by Party Members to young loyalists in a number of areas where the analysis and influence of the party is generally accepted. It has also been delivered to a number of community groups and seminars attended by community, voluntary and statutory representatives.

2.9 Responding to Crime

The Progressive Unionist Party has been, and continues to be, active in pursuing initiatives that will assist in the development of safe and secure communities and is committed to rigorous opposition to organised crime, the illicit drugs trade, the vice trade, anti-social behaviour, racketeering and sectarian conflict. Party members across the Province have literally put their lives on the line in the fight against crime and vice. The party’s position is well known at both local and provincial level and the party position on crime, drugs and vice is being implemented at community level by members and supporters.

Party members, including members of the Executive Committee, are involved at community level in programmes aimed at seeking to address the growing drugs culture within our communities. Members have contributed articles for publication, addressed seminars and conferences and lobbied both the PSNI and Government on issues related to crime, drugs and vice.

We have also encouraged members of the public to report instances of such activity to the authorities or where they are fearful of doing so to make a complaint to either a Party representative or to the Loyalist Commission. Party members have reported instances of criminal activity to the leadership of the UVF/RHC and are aware that sanctions have been imposed by these groups on their own membership.

2.10 Anti-Racism

The Progressive Unionist Party has worked for many, many years with all minority ethnic groups in Northern Ireland. The party lobbied for the introduction of Race Relations legislation and consulted many groups in the lead up to the Good Friday Agreement to ensure their voice was heard. The party has consistently condemned racist attacks from whatever source and its members have not only helped and supported victims in a practical sense, they have been instrumental in organising different events and projects aimed at promoting good relations. Party members in Ballymena organised an anti-racist conference last September, inviting church and civic leaders, key politicians and members of the loyalist community to debate the issue of racism and break down the myths and perceptions being peddled by some far right groups in the area. Party members in the Monkstown/East Antrim area organised and helped facilitate a weekend residential on anti-racism measures for local community and voluntary activists. Party members in South Belfast have used all their influence, not only to bring racist attacks to an end, but also to implement strategies aimed at challenging racist attitudes and promoting good relations in the areas most badly affected. For the Progressive Unionist Party, conflict transformation does not just include those from each side of the sectarian divide; conflict transformation is a process that affects all the ‘interfaces’ that exist in society.

3. Blocks to Transformation

3.1 The projects above are just a few examples of the work of party members over the last ten years or so. During that time there have been many attempts to stifle us and so end our commitment to conflict transformation and the principles of democracy and non-violence.

3.2 Four party activists have been murdered. The party leadership have received numerous death threats. Party members and supporters have been verbally abused and a large number have been forced to move home due to intimidation. This has specifically been as a result of our party’s commitment to the political and peace processes.

3.3 For many years there has been a policy of political marginalisation waged against our party and those associated with us. Whilst Sinn Fein and the Republican movement have been ably assisted along the path of democracy, the Progressive Unionist Party and Loyalism were subject to a criminalisation process. The PUP has said, and indeed the UVF and RHC have said, that the Chief Constable and the PSNI should deal with the criminality that exists within certain elements of Loyalism.

We do not deny its existence and have long questioned why there has been a refusal to deal with it.

3.4 Community groups who are perceived to be aligned to our party – either because a party member serves on the Management Committee or is employed as a member of staff or volunteer – experience difficulty in securing funding for projects from statutory bodies and many Local Strategy Partnerships. Several programmes designed to help address issues of paramilitary recruitment, so-called ‘punishment attacks’, racism and sectarianism have been rejected, not on the basis of merit or viability, but on the grounds of political vetting. Sadly, Section 8:7 of the IMC Report appears to recommend that both political vetting and extra-judicial expulsions from community groups should be expanded and endorsed by the Northern Ireland Office.

4. Progressive Unionist Party Meeting with the IMC

4.1 At its meeting with the IMC, the Progressive Unionist Party outlined the process of Conflict Transformation and indeed explained the great difficulties encountered in the process. At the behest of the IMC, the party addressed specific incidents and went to great lengths to explain how the leaderships of the UVF and RHC had dealt with these specific incidents. The party delegation was both open and frank with the commissioners.

5. The IMC Report

5.1 On viewing the report, the Progressive Unionist Party is dismayed that information given to the IMC, relating to specific incidents mentioned in the report was omitted. Why?

5.2 We find the report contradictory. One of the objectives of the IMC as set out in Article 3 is “…with a view to promoting the transition to a peaceful society…” The IMC’s recommendations do not, in our opinion, promote anything other than the further marginalisation of those working hardest for conflict transformation. Its Guiding Principles include that “…The rule of law is fundamental in a democratic society”. Its recommendations, in our opinion, disregard human rights legislation and the proposed Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland.

5.3 The IMC’s recommendations turn Article 3 and its Guiding Principles on their head. Instead of contributing to transition, the report stultifies the process of conflict transformation. It narrows the ground of those actively involved in building peace and gives the ‘wreckers’ a leg up. In order to frustrate the conflict transformation work of the Progressive Unionist Party and of those within the UVF/RHC leadership who genuinely desire to lead their men “out of the jungle” the ‘wreckers’ now have a license to engage in violence and criminality knowing that it will be the progressives and not they who will be punished.

5.4 The recommendations outlined in section 8:7 of the report contravene the principles of natural justice and due process insofar as they suggest that members of organisations and employees in the public, private and voluntary sector can be expelled or sacked if they cannot prove that they do not have paramilitary links. What happened to ‘innocent until proven guilty’? Surely this contradicts the IMC’s statement in p.45 of the report – “We have considered the human rights implications of our work at some depth… (and)…have consulted with the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission”. Section 8.7 also recommends that all political parties should “…play a full and constructive part in the operation of all criminal justice institutions…” including the PSNI, the Policing Board and District Policing Partnerships. Section 8.7 recommends exclusion and political vetting in one sentence, and then proposes inclusion and co-operation in another.

5.5 The UK incorporated the ECHR into domestic legislation. How does this fit with ‘shining a light’ on certain people? Given a polluted atmosphere in Northern Ireland, this has the potential to set people up for assassination. In the past individuals named by certain sections of the press have been physically attacked, some have been murdered, on the basis of media allegations. Is the IMC seriously considering putting individuals at risk of assassination in contravention of Article 13 of the International Agreement, which, as the IMC acknowledges, “…obliges (it) not to put at risk the safety or life of any person”?

5.6 The IMC want Loyalist paramilitaries to go away. Given the bloody history in this divided society, the IMC report confirms, for Loyalist paramilitaries that is, the very reason they should not go away. Namely the very ‘real’ threat posed by dissident and mainstream Republican groups.

5.7 The IMC recommended sanction on the Progressive Unionist Party has a number of possible implications. It could force a young mother out of a job and remove a much-needed service from an already disadvantaged community. It also has the capacity to restrict the PUP in its ability to influence those that the IMC argue, need to be influenced. The sanction curtails the ability of the party to fulfil its representative obligations.

5.8 Despite the IMC contribution to the political marginalisation of Loyalism, the Progressive Unionist Party will continue its work in promoting the transition to a peaceful, stable and democratic society.





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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
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The Letters page has been updated.




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