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PUP still trying to emerge from shadow of gunman

By Michael McHugh and Steven McCaffery

WHAT’S THE BIG PICTURE

The PUP unveiled an impressive array of social and economic policies as it launched its council manifesto last week, but the elephant in the room was the UVF, with whom it is associated.

Several senior members, including its former leader Dawn Purvis, resigned last year because of continued outbreaks of UVF violence.

This year Hugh Smyth, now the longest-serving member of Belfast City Council, held up a finger and thumb and predicted that the UVF were “this close” to leaving the stage, and believed that it was time for them to do so.

Ken Wilkinson, a council candidate in Antrim has acted as a UVF and Red Hand Commando spokesman in the past, seemed equally confident.

He predicted that there would be no kickback from the organisation for this week’s attempted murder of Harry Stockman, a Shankill UVF commander stabbed in a supermarket earlier this week.

He described Mr Stockman as one of the people who had tried to move the UVF forward into peaceful mode and predicted that he would not be deflected. He also predicted that there would be no more UVF attacks on drug dealers, and that a forthcoming parade to mark the Ulster Covenant would be “an historical pageant” in First World War uniforms, and not a paramilitary show of strength.

KEY POINTS

The PUP has a left-wing unionist agenda and an unusual basket of policies designed to appeal to working class loyalists.

It also claims some credit for the peace process due to its role in negotiating the Good Friday Agreement and its early espousal of power-sharing as the best way forward.

  • Financial incentives for parents to send their children to integrated schools so as to “remove the fear and suspicion” between the two communities.
  • An expanded role for Credit Unions in competing with the banks to provide mortgages, credit cards and current accounts.
  • A 1p tax on mobile phone text messages.
  • ‘An Orange Quarter’ celebrating the unionist heritage to promote tourism on the Shankill.
  • Increased old age pensions and a team of advisers to visit all pensioners to advise them on home insulation and other help they can receive to reduce fuel bills.
  • Means-tested student grants and increased access for mature students to both night classes and full-time courses.
  • An end to public inquiries into the past.
  • A programme to increase working-class recruitment to the PSNI from both communities.

ATMOSPHERE AT LAUNCH

Remarkably cordial, despite a barrage of questions from the Belfast Telegraph about the UVF, when they really wanted to discuss fuel poverty and education.

Tea and buns all round afterwards.

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