Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 14 October 2015

PUP man Hugh Smyth who scorned Big House unionism and rose to rank of Lord Mayor

By Rebecca Black

Published 13/05/2014 
11th February 2014
PUP Councillor Hugh Smyth pictured at his Belfast home.
Photograph:Stephen Hamilton /Presseye 11th February 2014 PUP Councillor Hugh Smyth pictured at his Belfast home. Photograph:Stephen Hamilton /Presseye

Belfast's longest serving councillor entered politics to improve the lot of the working man.

Yesterday former Lord Mayor Hugh Smyth died following a long illness.

In his last media interview just weeks before his death, the one-time leader of the PUP told the Belfast Telegraph how watching his father barely able to stand yet having to go out to work so he could feed his family made him determined to try and force change.

Mr Smyth was born off the Woodvale Road in 1941 as one of nine siblings.

He worked for Shorts before starting his long political career as an independent unionist in Belfast City Council in 1972. It lasted until this year, making him the longest serving councillor. He also served on the Assembly of 1973.

Mr Smyth was a key figure in the Good Friday Agreement negotiations, an experience he described as "extraordinary".

He left council in January when his illness worsened.

In February he reminisced about how different council was when he started out.

"There was no salary, no expenses," he said.

"They (the councillors) were all upper class, they deliberately planned meetings at 11am and 2pm to prevent working-class people from being able to attend.

"All us working-class ones struggled. Paddy Devlin was another one of the working-class councillors, he was brilliant and a man I could work with."

Councillors started to be paid in 1974 – £5 per 24 hours if they attended meetings.

"There was a members' room but they wouldn't let us working-class ones in, I remember trying to get in once and one of those Sir somethings shouted at me – 'little skitter', he said."

He blamed these unionists for the civil rights movement.

"If we had all worked together it never would have turned out the way it did," he said.

"The only one way to go on was to share power."

In 1995 Mr Smyth made history as Lord Mayor when he travelled to Dublin to meet with his Irish counterpart.

"By doing that the doors of communication were opened, the Lord Mayor of Dublin then came up to me and we both toured the US and Canada."

Sharing his memories in February, Mr Smyth was visibly frail but lit up when talking about politics.

"My father was a brick burner; I saw him crawling on his knees, but there was no way he could have stayed off work, he needed to feed us," he said.

"This is what the unionists were doing for us, and that's why I forced my way into politics."

One of Mr Smyth's highlights was receiving an OBE in 1996.

Paying tribute, DUP MP Nigel Dodds described Mr Smyth as "an assiduous representative but also one of the great characters of the council".

UUP councillor Chris McGimpsey said Mr Smyth will be "remembered fondly for his hard work and dedication, plus his ready wit and humour, which made him excellent company".

Sinn Fein has also paid tribute and extended the party's condolences to his family.

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