Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland has gone backwards in since Good Friday Agreement, says Hutchinson

By Michelle Weir

PUP leader Billy Hutchinson has claimed that Northern Ireland has gone backwards in the two decades since the Good Friday Agreement.

Speaking in the run-up to the 20th anniversary of the deal being signed, the Belfast councillor voiced frustration at the lack of progress in the intervening years.

In an interview with the Irish Times, he said politicians should be dealing with "issues that matter to everybody".

He said: "We never had shared responsibility because no matter who was in power, the two largest parties carved things up, and that's not good for society.

"It shouldn't be a case of a penny for me and a penny for you, a pound for you, a pound for me, a million for you, a million for me.

"It should be about dealing with the issues that matter to everybody."

Hutchinson stressed that Sinn Fein and the DUP needed to find a way of breaking the deadlock at Stormont.

He also said that the death of former PUP leader David Ervine from a heart attack 11 years ago at the age of 53 had been "a blow to loyalism".

He said that if his friend, who "wanted to change the world", was alive today he would be "totally frustrated".

The PUP now has just four elected representatives.

The former loyalist prisoner, who is a councillor for the city's Court ward, served 15 years in the Maze for the sectarian murders of Catholic workmen Michael Loughran and Edward Morgan in October 1974.

He said: "I don't want to change the world. I want to make a difference.

"It's about longevity."

He recalled the long days and nights of frantic negotiations leading up to the Good Friday Agreement on April 10, 1998.

He referenced one particularly lengthy discussion regarding north-south bodies and an issue over whether the wording in a document should be "could, would or should".

During the whole process he indicated that then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and former Northern Ireland Secretary, the late Mo Mowlam, impressed him the most.

He added: "I always found them down-to-earth.

"Privately, if they were in a room and they were talking, they let their guard down. There was no pomp about anything."

He spoke of the "pragmatism and sincerity" of the Women's Coalition and the Ulster Unionsts' Ken Maginnis, who "told it as it was".

And he commented on the SDLP's Seamus Mallon, saying: "Seamus probably would not have agreed with our politics and he certainly would not have agreed with our background, coming from the UVF, but he never let it get in the way of things."

Hutchinson also discussed a face-to-face encounter with Ian Paisley at Stormont during the first Northern Ireland Assembly.

He said the former DUP leader had refused to share an elavator with him, saying: "I will not be getting into any lift with a UVF murderer."

"And I said: 'Well, you should have told people that in the 1960s when you sent them to their deaths'."

"And the door closed."

Belfast Telegraph

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