The interim leader of the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP), Dr John Kyle, had his first interview with Stephen Nolan today. Even under normal circumstances this would be a baptism of fire for a politician, but it was especially the case given the situation Kyle finds himself in.
The murder by the UVF of Bobby Moffett on the Shankill Road on the 28th of May has sparked widespread condemnation. The UVF was supposed to have decommissioned its weapons and, through the PUP, to be committed to politics.
The most striking condemnation of all was the turnout at Moffett’s funeral on Friday. Hundreds of Shankill Road loyalists and others attended the funeral, defying UVF text message warnings.
Last week the popular leader of the PUP, Dawn Purvis, resigned from the party in despair, saying that the UVF just was not serious about peaceful politics and that she could no longer defend the indefensible.
Kyle, like Purvis, has admitted that he thinks that there are some in the UVF who are just not serious about politics. Moffett’s murder has of course raised questions about what kind of influence the PUP has on the UVF.
Listening to Kyle, it was not exactly clear what the current relationship between the UVF and the PUP is. It wasn’t until the end of the interview that Kyle finally told Nolan that he would sit down, urgently, and have meetings with the UVF.
Kyle is an East Belfast GP who has publicly identified himself as a Christian. This has led Turgon, on the Slugger O’Toole blog, to ask:
Where exactly does that leave the Christian GP John Kyle? If Purvis could no longer stomach the PUP and is to be lauded for her decision: how is it that Kyle can remain? I have previously suggested that Kyle is maybe a decent but deeply naïve man. However, there comes a point where naivety is no longer a defence for support of the indefensible: at that point it ends and becomes dishonesty. Kyle may be proclaimed as a decent man and may suggest that he will not rule out a complete break with the PUP. However, someone needs to point out that when it comes to integrity the new PUP emperor’s clothes look remarkably see through and unless and until he does break the link completely most will see him as being stark naked. Even if he does the question will be why did it take so long?
It’s a dilemma for any politician – Christian or not – to balance principle and pragmatism. But it’s worth asking what sort of Christian conviction led Kyle to become involved with the PUP in the first place.
For that, a valuable insight can be gained from Kyle’s interview with Philip Orr, conducted in 2007 for a publication by the Centre for Contemporary Christianity, New Loyalties: Christian Faith and the Protestant Working Class (2008). Kyle explained his motivation for getting involved with the PUP:
Then, in the period of the ‘Good Friday’ Agreement, I was particularly struck by the emergence on the scene of the Progressive Unionist Party, fronted by Billy Hutchinson and David Ervine. Their kind of Unionism seemed to be positive, working class and conciliatory. Somehow, it resonated with my own spirituality. While ‘cross-community’ work had been extensively carried out by many Christians, I had a sense that the churches had not really connected with the Protestant working class communities on their won doorsteps, which was a pity because people really seemed to have suffered through years of the conflict.
At that time Kyle also said that he though the UVF ‘have moved on from violence,’ an opinion he has revised in light of Moffett’s murder, as he told the BBC on Saturday:
But going back to his interview with Orr, Kyle spoke of the transformation that he believed was possible:
… if, as a Christian, you want to change things, then you have to get in there and be involved with the way things actually are, instead of waiting around until it’s ‘safe’ or respectable to do so. Jesus associated with all kinds of people and so can we.
So is it naïve to keep on thinking that the PUP/UVF relationship can have the kind of transformative effect that inspired Kyle to get involved with the party in the first place?
That’s a tough question. It leads to an even more difficult one:
If not, what is the alternative for the communities in which the UVF remains a strong presence?