Belfast Telegraph

Winkie Irvine's short memory on Sophie Long McGuinness tweet row

UVF and PUP boss attacked woman who sent sympathy to McGuinness's 'comrades'

By Ciaran Barnes

PUP and UVF boss Winkie Irvine has been branded two-faced over his criticism of a senior PUP member who was forced to quit the party after sending sympathy to Martin McGuinness’s ‘comrades’.

Queen’s University lecturer Sophie Long resigned after receiving a barrage of online abuse including a reprimand from the B Company commander.

Writing on Twitter, Irvine described her comments in wake of Mr McGuinness’s death as “very insensitive and offensive to a large section of the community. Not standing by it for a second.”

But what the loyalist is not so quick to mention is that he was part of a group that welcomed a convicted IRA bomber into the Rex Bar on the Shankill Road.

The image of Derry man Tony Millar — who is proud to call himself a “comrade” and close friend of Martin McGuinness — was taken in 2011.

Back then Irvine had no issue cosying up to the republican, who leapt over the counter and pulled a pint, because they were both involved in the ‘From Prison to Peace’ group that received £4 million of government funding.

Furious UVF members say the photo proves Irvine’s two-faced.

One ex-prisoner told us: “Any loyalist, including Winkie, who criticises Sophie Long for sending sympathy to Martin McGuinness’s family and friends should take a look at the photo of Tony Millar in the Rex Bar.

“Here is a convicted IRA bomber, a proud comrade of McGuinness, pulling a pint in a pub which is a shrine to the UVF.”

Tony Millar (61) was jailed for 23 years for taking part in a Provo bombing campaign in Derry city. He had a close friendship with Martin McGuinness who was his commander in Derry during the 1970s.

Since getting out of prison Millar has been involved in a number of cross-community peace projects, one of which led to him being welcomed into the Rex Bar by UVF members.

However, Winkie Irvine seemed to have forgotten about this when he launched his Twitter broadside against Sophie Long, who was the PUP’s Director of Communications. The close friendship between party leader Billy Hutchinson and the late IRA hunger striker Pat McGeown — whose wake the ex-UVF prisoner attended — also apparently slipped his memory.

So to, it appears, has Irvine’s own tight working relationship with convicted Provo bomber Sean ‘Spike’ Murray, who is facing claims he smuggled guns into Belfast after the IRA ceasefire commenced.

Loyalist sources told Sunday Life that Ms Long was becoming increasingly marginalised by a clique of PUP members because of her no-nonsense approach to politics.

“Sophie was easily the most competent performer in the PUP, whether at private meetings or in front of a TV camera.

“Unlike others she didn’t talk community-speak psycho-babble,” explained an insider.

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