PUP leader Billy Hutchinson endorses 'unarmed resistance'
Progressive Unionist Party leader Billy Hutchinson has warned a 'campaign of unarmed resistance' could include acts of civil disobedience to defend loyalist culture.
Speaking at its annual conference, he said the party did not support violence but the campaign was "necessary to defend our way of life".
"We have been criticised of late in supporting peaceful protests. We have been accused of fomenting trouble via the flag protests," he said.
"I say that we are the only party showing leadership at this time," and referred to a party document from more than a decade ago, in which such a campaign was mapped out, including in its 'principles':
"'Unarmed resistance may involve selective picketing, peaceful protests, public demonstrations and even acts of civil disobedience. We need to go on the offensive politically, socially and culturally'."
Mr Hutchinson made a direct pitch to disenchanted unionists voting for the DUP and UUP, warning against politicians who 'horse-trade' and demanding the broad unionist community tackle a 'confidence deficit'.
The former MLA who, along with the late David Ervine negotiated the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, also, however, warned unionists not to consider expressions of Irish-ness to be a threat and instead try to convince nationalists "they have nothing to fear from our politics".
Yet he also warned that Sinn Fein is "constantly using the past to make gains and force concessions in present-day politics. We cannot allow our political opponents to re-write the past".
"We need the politicians to deal with the issues, not share out the spoils of political elitism," he said.
Mr Hutchinson said working-class unionist communities are still struggling to find any semblance of the much vaunted 'peace dividend'.
"High unemployment, social exclusion, poor housing and high levels of deprivation underpinned by an education system which has consistently failed working-class unionist young people serves only to condemn future generations to the same spiral of unmet need, draining hope from working-class communities. There has to be a better way."
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Earlier this month the Belfast County Grand Secretary of the Orange Order, William Mawhinney, said: "When the time is right we will probably upscale our protests... right up until civil disobedience if that's what it takes."
He spoke in relation to the 'peace camp' protest set up after the Parades Commission banned lodges from passing the Ardoyne shops in north Belfast on July 12.