The PUP the People and the Politics of ‘Unarmed Resistance’

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It was one of those jump out lines, found on the Official PUP twitter account; a couple of sentences that tell the story of a continuing struggle for hearts and minds inside a section of the loyalist community.

It read: “Restructured, Prepared and Ready for ‘Unarmed Resistance’. Let’s do it for the people.”

I asked what it meant, and this was the response: “Simple – politics is the way forward …we all need to travel that road.”

The PUP is aligned with the UVF and, recently, the leaders of both Billy Hutchinson and John Graham sat in the same workshop at a conference that discussed progress in a conflict transformation project specific to this section of the loyalist community.

More than five years have passed since the leadership of the UVF set a target of “civilianisation” as a public statement that its ‘war’ was over.


It took two more years to achieve decommissioning; a move that meant weapons firstly placed “beyond reach” were then put “beyond use”.

This was meant to include all arms under the control of the UVF leadership, but that statement was then seriously undermined.

It was undermined by the murder of Bobby Moffett in 2010 – a public execution on the Shankill Road linked to a row between the former Red Hand Commando prisoner and senior figures in the UVF.

No organisation – including the IRA – decommissioned all its weapons, but to use guns in a day light assassination to settle scores linked to loyalist infighting brought a particular focus onto the UVF.

That organisation has not been able to escape that attention ever since.

Its members were linked to an organised attack on the Short Strand in east Belfast last year and to bombs placed at houses in the Falls area in the west of the city.

All of this raised questions about the commitment of elements within the organisation to the “civilianisation” project.

So much so indeed that in recent days, the Police Federation called again for the group to be “re-specified” – a political term meaning a ceasefire is not recognised.

This is the backdrop to that recent conference attended by Hutchinson and Graham and other significant loyalist figures, a conference to review progress.

Long after the wars, there are still concerns about recruitment and the involvement of elements within the organisation in continuing criminality, including drugs.

According to loyalists, Graham held a recent meeting with leaders in east Belfast; a part of the UVF that has been dragging its heels on that march towards a different road.

Hutchinson knows that at some point, if this unarmed, civilianisation, conflict transformation project is to have credibility, then those who want to travel that route will have to distance themselves from those who don’t.

“I agree totally, but it is how it is done is the key,” he tweeted in response to a comment I made last weekend on the need to isolate those who are using and damaging loyalism.

This will be the test of the seriousness of loyalist leaders such as Hutchinson and Graham.

There is a dark cloud hanging over the organisation; the possibility of another so-called ‘supergrass trial’; one with the potential to target and damage the leadership of the UVF, reach into the rooms where orders were given and actions decided.

It is an issue of real concern.

Supergrass trials, whatever their new title, are a ghost of a failed past, and there are those who believe that this is slowing down the possibility of further progress, the moment of genuine civilianisation after decades of conflict.

That said, Hutchinson argues that the vast majority of those who were part of that conflict now want to leave those battlefields behind.

There is evidence of a re-energised political/community approach.


Billy Hutchinson facing the media


Hutchinson is emerging again as the political face of loyalism.

Chief Constable Matt Baggott addressed the recent PUP conference.

The Party has a new website, a new twitter account, being used to pump information out into its community.

People are being encouraged to register to vote.

Much of this is happening behind the scenes, this re-engagement in the peace and political processes, including a recent private meeting with Sinn Fein on the huge questions of the past and reconciliation.

Hutchinson said in a recent television interview with me that we need to deal with the past, but not in a way that “nails people to the wall”.

He has asked his party to prepare a paper as a contribution to the debate, and this too is important given the loyalist involvement in our different wars.

A big part of the PUP’s recent conference focused on marching, and the party needs to be careful that it is not defined on this one contentious, cul-de-sac issue.

It needs to offer young people something more than a drum and a band.

Education and jobs are the real challenges.

If this conflict transformation project is to work, then Hutchinson and Graham and others need help.

The UVF needs to go away, not be seen or heard; do what it said it was going to do more than five years ago, and leave the politics of the peace process to the PUP.



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About Author

Brian Rowan

Brian Rowan is a journalist/author. A former BBC correspondent in Belfast, four times he has been a category winner in the Northern Ireland Press and Broadcast Awards. He is the author of several books on the peace process. His latest book (published by Merrion Press) POLITICAL PURGATORY – the battle to save Stormont and the play for a New Ireland is now available at



    There are many challenges still facing the Loyalist community.

    The full spectrum of Social-injustice, continues to adversely impact on and across all working-class communities, and has left those who already experience their lives at the edges and margins of society, feeling even more disenfranchised, neglected and discarded.

    In Health; our communities remain susceptible to high mortality, suicide, drug-dependency and mental health rates, combined to a lower than average life-expectancy; and these stark
    facts are compounded by the emergence of post-traumatic-stress-disorders as a residue of the conflict;

    In Education, underachievement continues to ensure the failure of our young people, and condemns them to an aspirational poverty that will dictate and determine the life chances of what is our sucessional generation, whilst many of our representatives still cling to what is an outdated and failed system constructed on the basis of inequality;

    In Employment, high levels of unemployment are a phenomenon that continues to rage unabated and many have been left unable to effectively compete in the market, where there exists a distinct poverty of opportunity in terms of both job creation and in making our
    communities employment and investment ready;

    In Environment, dereliction and deprivation remain rife, and more pronounced, particularly on Interfaces and within isolated communities;

    In social Welfare; reforms are now at an advanced stage, which are anticipated to adversely affect those most vulnerable and susceptible to poverty within our communities. Yet there remains an inability from our political representatives to adequately explain what
    these welfare-reforms will mean for people in real terms;
    It is important to reflect that these reforms advance with the full consent and acquiescence of our political representatives, without taking cognisance of the fact that we are an area of the UK that are still emerging from the conflict and dealing with the particular legacies of that conflict which attach themselves, without any regional dispensation being applied to take account of our unique and distinct circumstances.

    On a political front; the lack of co-ordinated policies and action plans to address poverty is itself indicative of the failure of Government and a denial of their inherent responsibility.

    Furthermore, the existence of a growing social-injustice, that itself underpins poverty, and which is being experienced across all working-class communities, though often more
    acutely within Loyalist areas, is compounded by the fact that a significant section within our communities simply do not vote. This fact itself evidences a disenfranchisement with politics, and disenchantment with delivery on the social justice agenda, where the so called peace-dividend has not been experienced and has evaporated.

    It is imperative that we strengthen representation between our elected representatives and the Loyalist working-class Unionist electorate, in the forging of a participative democracy, where Loyalists can begin to interact with those who claim to represent us, hold them
    to account in terms of that representation, contribute to the generic decision-making process and influence policy.

    This is a legitimate rights-based demand, towards ensuring that working-class unionism can not only have a voice, but be heard, and have that voice responded to. Whilst some elements within unionism are embracing that challenge and forging new relationships, that has seen improved delivery, others have been too slow to grasp the challenge and
    remain to be convinced, and there are still those who downright refuse to consider that the Loyalist community can have a viewpoint, voice or articulated thought to share.

    If we are to address the social-injustice that persists, it is imperative that the needs and aspirations of Loyalist working-class Unionist communities are adequately represented in
    the new future we are building.

    With regards to criminality, something more prevalent within working-class areas, it is important that we recognise that criminality also plays its part in sustaining a community in the grip of poverty, and whilst some make significant gains from criminal activity and enjoy enhanced lifestyle benefits, it is often at the expense of those most vulnerable within our community,and places a burden of debt and social care on the vast majority who succumb to the criminal agenda. Criminality and Loyalism are incompatible concepts.

    These remain the real challenges facing our communities…

    • Agree with all the above.
      One important point has been omitted
      hatred of Catholics and others whether perceived as such or not
      , high levels of sectarianism and racial hatred are a phenomenon that continues to rage unabated and many have been left unable to effectively compete in the market, where there exists a distinct poverty of opportunity in terms of both job creation and in making our communities employment and investment ready

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