Local UVF leaders in east Belfast stood down, but all groupings should disband: John Kyle

UVF mural on the Lower Newtownards Road in east Belfast. Photo: Jonathan Porter/PressEye
UVF mural on the Lower Newtownards Road in east Belfast. Photo: Jonathan Porter/PressEye

Up to eight individuals are said to have been removed from their positions by the illegal organisation’s hierarchy.

Several alleged members of the east Belfast UVF have appeared in court in recent months charged with serious criminal activity, including drug dealing.

The decision to stand down the local leadership was revealed in a statement read at a UVF Remembrance Sunday event.

Dr John Kyle, who was the deputy leader of the UVF-linked Progressive Unionist Party before quitting in December 2021, said the decision taken by the UVF’s central leadership was good news, but said there is no place for such organisations in our society.

“These changes are to be welcomed. In my estimation a large majority of people in east Belfast are glad this has happened,” he said.

On Monday, the BBC reported a senior loyalist source as saying that the order for the east Belfast leadership to stand down "became effective" from midnight and followed the conclusion of an internal "investigation" last week.

They said it was an attempt to "put clear blue sky between loyalism and those intent on criminal activity".

Dr Kyle joined the Ulster Unionist Party in February 2022 while a sitting councillor on Belfast City Council, then stepped down from the council in May this year.

He will remain in his post as High Sheriff of Belfast until the end of December.

"It is time for all paramilitary organisations to stand down en masse – and there would be widespread support for this,” Dr Kyle added.

In a blogpost on Sunday evening, the writer and historian Dr Aaron Edwards said: "This news will be greeted with skepticism in some quarters but it is clear that the UVF has taken a positive step to clean up its image and move towards what many analysts see as the unfinished business of the peace process and, ultimately, group transition”.

Dr Kyle, who had served as a PUP councillor following the death of the party’s leader David Ervine in 2007, has been outspoken over a number of years in opposition to paramilitary murals in east Belfast.

In 2013, Dr Kyle branded the decision to replace a George Best mural in Sydenham with the image of a UVF gunman a “disgrace”.

At the time, he said: “I think the people of east Belfast deserve better. The vast majority want to look to the future and not to the past.”

In September last year he welcomed a number of paramilitary murals on the Newtownards Road being replaced by “less threatening” imagery, including unarmed UDA vigilanties.

He said: “It is now more documenting the social history of the area, rather than paramilitary propaganda or threatening and militaristic murals with implied threats.”

When Dr Kyle resigned from the PUP in 2021, he cited a difference of opinion over the appropriate response to the post-Brexit trading arrangements agreed between the UK and the EU.

"While we agree that the NI Protocol has created major difficulties for Northern Ireland and has critically undermined the Good Friday Agreement, we respectfully but strongly differ on how best to address these problems," he said.