Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

PUP: Changes a sign of bid to broaden support

Progressive Unionist Party leader Billy Hutchinson (left) and Cllr Dr John Kyle at the PUP's annual conference
Progressive Unionist Party leader Billy Hutchinson (left) and Cllr Dr John Kyle at the PUP's annual conference

It was no accident the PUP conference took place in Lurgan.

This was the first time the party held their annual gathering outside Belfast.

For years it took place in the Park Avenue Hotel in the east of the city, moving south last year to the Ramada.

But Lurgan is in Upper Bann where the party is confident of picking up council seats next year and perhaps getting back into the Assembly in 2016.

Moreover Brownlow House is also headquarters of the Royal Black Institution, from the upper end of the loyal orders, whose campaign on parading the party backed solidly.

The party said it has formed new branches in Lurgan, nearby Portadown and Banbridge, as well Lisburn, Limavady and Foyle. They also claim membership has trebled in the last year, although the event was limited to 150.

And a tiny piece of history was made – for the first time the strongly-loyalist party invited a speaker representing nationalism to be its main guest speaker, Noel Doran, editor of the Irish News.

"We think it is a sign of our growing maturity and I can't think of any of the other unionist parties doing likewise," the party's communications director, Winston Irvine, argued. "It shows that we are not just listening to voices in our own community."

And in passing motions on 'equal marriage', housing inequalities, educational under-achievement in the Protestant working-class and the 'armed forces covenant' the party also attempted to broaden its base and alter the image of preoccupation with street protest and union flag demonstrations.

COMMENT RULES: Comments that are judged to be defamatory, abusive or in bad taste are not acceptable and contributors who consistently fall below certain criteria will be permanently blacklisted. The moderator will not enter into debate with individual contributors and the moderator’s decision is final. It is Belfast Telegraph policy to close comments on court cases, tribunals and active legal investigations. We may also close comments on articles which are being targeted for abuse. Problems with commenting? customercare@belfasttelegraph.co.uk