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Former mayor Hugh Smyth moulded by Shankill

By Alf McCreary

Hugh Smyth, who has died at the age of 73, was a former Lord Mayor of Belfast and a founder member of the Progressive Unionist Party.

Smyth, known to all as 'Shughie', was born and brought up on the Shankill Road in Belfast and was a long-term politician for the area, where he was also deeply committed to the welfare of its people.

He was a member of Belfast City Council for more than 40 years until his retirement in January.

He held various roles, becoming Deputy Lord Mayor in 1983 and 1993 and, eventually, Lord Mayor from 1994-95. He helped to found the Volunteer Political Party, which soon folded.

However, he was appointed leader of the Independent Unionist Group, which later became the PUP.

He was succeeded by David Ervine when he resigned from the leadership in 2002.

As Lord Mayor, he reacted positively to the Provisional IRA ceasefire in 1994 and urged his fellow loyalists to "give peace a chance".

In the same year he invited the Lord Mayor of Dublin to Belfast City Hall and, several months later, he accepted a reciprocal invitation to the City Hall in Dublin.

This was seen as a courageous political initiative for a grassroots unionist and loyalist.

His bridge-building did not go unrewarded and in 1995 he was appointed OBE for services to the community.

Smyth was noted for his wit and personal warmth, and was well regarded across the political divisions.

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