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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Uncharted Waters

Anthony McIntyre • The Other View, Autumn 2003

In the world of publishing, loyalism is not the marketable commodity that has earned republicanism considerable capital in terms of public interest. Many shelves in a library could be packed with works on republicanism whereas it would take little out of a librarian's time to catalogue the loyalist collection. Henry Sinnerton's recent biography of David Ervine on its own will do little to break the mould but it is no less welcome for that. Even with other works presently under progress, the republican/loyalist imbalance shows few signs of being incrementally adjusted, loyalism permanently locked in the catch up spot.

This is an easy book to get through. Perhaps that is one of the problems with it. Reading it at the same time as another - David Macey's biography on Michel Foucault - the contrast in styles is illuminating. Macey is flush with detail and trawls through a seemingly bottomless reservoir of sources. In comparison Sinnerton skims over his sources. Penned in a non-academic style his work easily avoids becoming ensnared in the tedium that all too often accompanies academic writing. Invariably this has a downside and in Sinnerton's case, one has to ask how well do we really know David Ervine having completed the 250 pages? Arguably, there is a sense in which we wish to grapple with the depth of our politicians, employing an energy that we would never consider expending on sports personalities. But Sinnerton writes of David Ervine in the way that a sports journalist might pen a biography of, say, John McEnroe. It is not a heavyweight political biography.

In many senses what is charted here is the progress of a certain strain of loyalist political thinking from the Gusty Spence run cages of Long Kesh to the PUP of the new millennium. It deals with Ervine, the main character, surprisingly lightly, which lends itself to an aura of superficiality. One suspects that Ervine was constrained in his ability to be forthcoming to his biographer. The reader is left feeling that only he was arrested with explosives in 1974 there would have been no mention of involvement in the UVF. Puzzling but unexplained is how a loyalist operative as central and senior as Billy Wright could have 'mistaken' Ervine for a senior UVF leader. Moreover, apart from a critical objection raised by Eddie Kinner, the internal impact of the brutal activity of the Shankill Butchers never featured in this version.

This serves to place the book very much in the uncritical frame. The author is by no means a hostile or even critical witness. At points it is tempting to view his account as a PR exercise for the PUP. The attempt to distance the party from the UVF seems as unpersuasive as those accounts which segregate Sinn Fein from the IRA. One suspects that by the time we reach a truth and reconciliation commission, the dance of deceit on these matters will have been performed for so long, that no one will be found who was ever in any organisation other than Christian charities.

Besides possessing a strong radical bent Ervine emerges as a shrewd reader of political trends. His firm belief that republicans were breaking on the consent principle helped sustain his faith in the strength of his politicisation project. He never seemed in any doubt that republican involvement in the peace process posed no threat to the safety of the union. His optimism has not proven unfounded. Moreover, the certainty with which the PUP and UVF knew the IRA ceasefire of 1994 was coming casts even further doubt on the republican claim that the British and Unionists were caught wrong footed by the development.

Where it will all lead to is anybody's guess. But Sinnerton helps convince his audience that with Ervine and his coterie of comrades and advisers at the helm, the PUP is a serious bulwark against any resumption of UVF armed force.





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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.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

6 October 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


Tangled Times
Eamon McCann


Heroes and Villains
Tommy Gorman


Who Was Responsible?
Michael Kearney


Costello Commemoration
Paul Little


Uncharted Waters
Anthony McIntyre


Date Change: Anti Racist Network Meeting
Davy Carlin


Coming Soon to the United States?
Toni Solo


3 October 2003


The Rite of Passage
Anthony McIntyre


32 CSM Condemn Abduction of its members
Andy Martin


Irish Republicanism As I See It
Thomas Gore


A Question of Class
Davy Carlin


It All Leads Back to This
Mick Hall


I Dreamt I Saw Joe H Last Night
Anthony McIntyre


Tail Biting Prohibited
Eoghan O'Suilleabhain




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