Militant-turned-politician David Ervine dies in Belfast

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DUBLIN, Ireland (AP) – David Ervine, a one-time Protestant militant who became one of Northern Ireland’s most articulate and forward-thinking politicians, died Monday after suffering a heart attack, according to colleagues and a Belfast hospital. He was 53.

Ervine, who was imprisoned for six years in the 1970s for his activities in the outlawed Ulster Volunteer Force, was the leading figure in the UVF’s legal Progressive Unionist Party.

He was one of the most ardent Protestant supporters of the 1998 Good Friday peace accord for Northern Ireland.

Ervine was influential in delivering a 1994 cease-fire by the Ulster Volunteer Force and Northern Ireland’s other major outlawed Protestant group, the Ulster Defense Association.

He was popular among the public – even among the province’s Catholic minority – because of his exceptional candor about both his past militancy and the political way forward.

But Ervine struggled in vain to build wider Protestant support for his political party, which remained on the fringes because of its open affiliation to an outlawed group.

He was the only elected Progressive Unionist in Northern Ireland’s 108-member Assembly.

Ervine, a dedicated pipe smoker, had been in Belfast’s Royal Victoria Hospital since Saturday after suffering at least one heart attack and a suspected stroke, the hospital said.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair led tributes from throughout Britain and Ireland.

“David was a man who, whatever his past, played a major part in this last 10 years in trying to bring peace to Ulster,” Blair said.

“His incisive wit and clear, if often controversial, analysis of Northern Ireland politics marked him out. Brought up in sectarian politics, he ended up being a persistent and intelligent persuader for cross-community partnership, and he will be sorely missed.”

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