Progressive Unionist Party
LeaderBilly Hutchinson
ChairmanBrian Lacey
Founded1979 (1979)
Headquarters182 Shankill Road, Belfast, BT13 2BH
Paramilitary wingUlster Volunteer Force
Red Hand Commando
IdeologyBritish unionism
Ulster loyalism
Democratic socialism[1][2]
Social democracy
Political positionCentre-left[3][4] to left-wing[5]
Colours  Blue and   red
Northern Irish seats in the House of Commons
0 / 18
Northern Ireland Assembly
0 / 90
Local government in Northern Ireland
2 / 462

The Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) is a minor unionist[6] political party in Northern Ireland. It was formed from the Independent Unionist Group operating in the Shankill area of Belfast, becoming the PUP in 1979. Linked to the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and Red Hand Commando (RHC), for a time it described itself as "the only left of centre unionist party" in Northern Ireland, with its main support base in the loyalist working class communities of Belfast.[7]

Since the Ulster Democratic Party's dissolution in 2001, the PUP has been the sole party in Northern Ireland representing paramilitary loyalism.[8]

Party leaders

Leader From To
1 Hugh Smyth 1979 2002
2 David Ervine 2002 2007
3 Dawn Purvis 2007 2010
4 Brian Ervine 2010 2011
5 Billy Hutchinson 2011 Incumbent


The party was founded by Hugh Smyth in the mid-1970s as the "Independent Unionist Group". In 1977, two prominent members of the Northern Ireland Labour Party, David Overend and Jim McDonald, joined. Overend subsequently wrote many of the group's policy documents, incorporating much of the NILP's platform.[9][10] In 1979, the group was renamed the "Progressive Unionist Party".

In 1995, shortly after the Combined Loyalist Military Command announced a ceasefire, former UVF member Billy Hutchinson, who was jailed for the murder of two Catholics in 1974, defined the relationship between the PUP and the UVF: "The relationship is a very strict one in terms of acting as political confidants and providing political analysis for them, but it doesn't go any deeper than that."[11]

The party has had a degree of electoral success. In 1994 PUP leader Hugh Smyth became Lord Mayor of Belfast, and in the 1996 elections to the Northern Ireland Forum they secured two seats, with Smyth and David Ervine both being elected. The PUP supported the Belfast Agreement and in the 1998 election to the Northern Ireland Assembly they also won two seats, with Hutchinson and David Ervine elected from the Belfast North and East constituencies respectively. Hutchinson lost his seat in the 2003 election, leaving Ervine as their sole Assembly representative. This was followed by a poor showing in the Northern Ireland local election of 2005, where Smyth and Ervine were their only two members to retain their seats on local authorities, and the party now seems to be in a state of decline.

Their position on the left of the political spectrum differentiates them from other unionist parties (such as the Ulster Unionist Party and the Democratic Unionist Party) which are ideologically right-wing.[12]

Following a loyalist feud between the UVF and Loyalist Volunteer Force, in which four men were murdered by the UVF in Belfast and recognition of the UVF's ceasefire was withdrawn by the British government, the PUP debated ending its "special relationship" with the UVF. This was defeated in a closed vote at the party's annual conference in October 2005.

In March 2006, the Chairwoman of the PUP, Dawn Purvis, a research associate at the University of Ulster, was appointed as an independent member of the Northern Ireland Policing Board.

David Ervine died following a heart attack on 8 January 2007. On 22 January 2007 Dawn Purvis was chosen as party leader.[13] She is the second woman to lead a unionist party in Northern Ireland (after Anne Dickson's short-lived leadership of the Unionist Party of Northern Ireland following Brian Faulkner's retirement). Dr John Kyle was co-opted on to Belfast City Council to fill Ervine's seat. The party did not field any candidates for the 2010 general elections - party members were encouraged to vote for a candidate of their choice.

Assembly elections, March 2007

The election was for 108 seats spread evenly across 18 constituencies.

The PUP fielded three candidates: Elaine Martin in North Down, Andrew Park in Belfast South and Dawn Purvis in Belfast East. Overall the party polled 3,822 votes or 0.6% of the votes cast in Northern Ireland, down 0.6% from the elections of 2003.

Dawn Purvis was elected to represent Belfast East, polling 3,045 votes (10.3%), finishing 5th out of the 15 candidates.

2010 resignations and relationship with UVF/RHC

In June 2010, Dawn Purvis resigned as leader, and as a member, of the party because of its relationship with the UVF and a recent murder attributed to that group.[14] On 28 August 2010 the former deputy leader, David Rose, resigned from the party. He cited the recent murder attributed to the UVF and his belief that the party was "becoming increasingly conservative in outlook.[15]

During a meeting in Belfast on 29 September 2010, members of the party agreed to maintain its relationship with the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Red Hand Commando.[16][17] Despite these links, party leader Billy Hutchinson acknowledges that most UVF members vote for the larger Democratic Unionist Party.[18]

Assembly elections, May 2011

The election was for 108 seats spread evenly across 18 constituencies. The party failed to regain the East Belfast seat and are unrepresented in the Assembly. Leader Brian Ervine resigned soon after the election and was replaced by veteran west Belfast activist Billy Hutchinson in October 2011.[19]

Notable members

Former UVF member Billy Giles, who spent 14 years in the Maze Prison for a sectarian killing, was part of the PUP's negotiating team at the Good Friday Agreement in April 1998.[20] Others involved in this process included Billy Mitchell, David Ervine, Jim McDonald, William 'Billy' Greer, Winston Churchill Rea and William "Plum" Smyth; all former UVF and Red Hand Commando members.

Electoral performance

UK general elections

1997 UK general election

Constituency Candidate Votes % Position
Belfast South David Ervine 5,687 14.4 3
East Antrim Billy Donaldson 1,757 5.1 5
South Antrim Hugh Smyth 3,490 9.0 4

2001 UK general election

Constituency Candidate Votes % Position
Belfast East David Ervine 3,669 10.0 4
Belfast South Dawn Purvis 1,112 2.9 6

Northern Ireland Assembly

Election Seats won ± First Pref votes % ±
2 / 108
Steady 20,634 2.6% Steady
1 / 108
Decrease1 8,032 1.2% Decrease1.4%
1 / 108
Steady 3,822 0.6% Decrease1.2%
0 / 108
Decrease1 1,493 0.2% Decrease0.4%
0 / 108
Steady 5,955 0.9% Increase0.7%
0 / 90
Steady 5,590 0.7% Decrease0.2%
0 / 90
Steady 2,665 0.3% Decrease0.4%

See also


  1. ^ Edwards, Aaron (2007). "Democratic Socialism and Sectarianism: The Northern Ireland Labour Party and Progressive Unionist Party Compared". Politics. 27 (1): 24–31. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9256.2007.00275.x. S2CID 145393084.
  2. ^ New Statesman: Volume 131, Issues 4569-4576. London: New Statesman. 2002. p. 56.
  3. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 4 July 2020. Retrieved 9 August 2020.((cite web)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  4. ^ Coulter, John (11 September 2019). "A socialist alternative for Northern Ireland?". Northern Slant. Archived from the original on 4 July 2020. Retrieved 9 August 2020.
  5. ^ Coulter, John (11 September 2019). "A socialist alternative for Northern Ireland?". Northern Slant. Archived from the original on 4 July 2020. Retrieved 9 August 2020.
  6. ^ Nordsieck, Wolfram (2011). "Northern Ireland/UK". Parties and Elections in Europe. Archived from the original on 29 December 2015.
  7. ^ "Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) - Your Questions". Archived from the original on 6 December 2009. Retrieved 15 June 2010.
  8. ^ Albert, Cornelia (2009). The Peacebuilding Elements of the Belfast Agreement and the Transformation of the Northern Ireland Conflict. p. 60. ISBN 9783631585917.
  9. ^ Aaron Edwards, A history of the Northern Ireland Labour Party, p.219
  10. ^ Ed Moloney, Voices from the Grave: Two Men's War in Ireland, p.396
  11. ^ Brian Rowan, Behind the Lines: The Story of the IRA and Loyalist Ceasefires' (Belfast: Blackstaff Press, 1995), p. 141
  12. ^ Taylor, Ros (28 January 1999). "Who's who in Northern Ireland". Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 16 December 2016 – via
  13. ^ New PUP leader seeks Ervine seat Archived 25 January 2007 at the Wayback Machine, BBC News, 23 January 2007. Retrieved 27 August 2009.
  14. ^ "Purvis quits PUP over murder of loyalist Moffett". BBC News. 3 June 2010. Retrieved 15 June 2010.
  15. ^ "Leading PUP member, David Rose, quits party". BBC News. 28 August 2010. Archived from the original on 31 August 2010. Retrieved 1 September 2010.
  16. ^ "PUP 'keep link with loyalist UVF'". 29 September 2010. Archived from the original on 1 March 2021. Retrieved 20 June 2018 – via BBC.
  17. ^ "PUP to maintain paramilitary link". Archived from the original on 18 October 2019. Retrieved 18 October 2019.
  18. ^ "Jamie Bryson confuses me, says PUP's Billy Hutchinson". Archived from the original on 18 October 2019. Retrieved 18 October 2019.
  19. ^ "ITV Hub". ITV Hub. Archived from the original on 18 April 2013. Retrieved 18 October 2019.
  20. ^ Taylor, Peter (1999). Loyalists. London: Bloomsbury. p.8