PUP leader Billy Hutchinson has refused to say sorry to the families of the two young Catholics he murdered as they walked to work in 1974.
Mr Hutchinson’s years in the UVF have been under renewed scrutiny since a News Letter interview last week.
In the interview he said that he had no regrets about his past and suggested that UVF murders such as his own had helped stop a united Ireland.
Asked this morning on BBC Radio Ulster’s Nolan Show if he would say sorry to the families of his two victims – Edward Morgan, 27, and Michael Loughran, 18 – he said: “There will be a time for that and that time will come when this society designs the process to deal with the past ... me and my party believe that we need to deal with the past and we are quite happy to do that.
“But it will happen when the context is set and when everyone else wants to agree that context and take part.
“There will be a time for that. The time is not now.”
In a series of U-turns from what he said to the News Letter last week, Mr Hutchinson today told the Nolan Show that “the UVF didn’t prevent a united Ireland”, a week after suggesting that the paramilitary group had helped do just that.
A week after saying “I certainly have no regrets in terms of my past because I believe that I contributed to preventing a united Ireland”, Mr Hutchinson said: “Of course I regret all of my past; I regret it all ... there’s nobody saying that there was no regret”.
When presented with his own words from last week’s interview on the issue, he said: “I’m not foolish enough to believe that that was the case”, going on to say that “it was a combination of things that prevented a united Ireland”.
And he claimed that the News Letter had misrepresented his words so it appeared that he was suggesting his victims had links to the IRA and were not, as the trial judge said, entirely innocent, random Catholics.
Today Mr Hutchinson claimed that when he talked in the interview about having “intelligence”, “I was talking in terms of a very general discussion around a UVF campaign and my view of it. It was a discussion around the generalities of changing strategies, tactics and intelligence, all of which were at times good or bad, accurate or inaccurate, successes or failures.
“None of this was discussed in any specific context; yet was presented in that fashion.”
However, the News Letter has now published on our website a transcript ( http://www.newsletter.co.uk/news/regional/hutchinson-still-refuses-to-say-sorry-to-families-1-5957093 ) of that section of the interview with Mr Hutchinson. It shows clearly that he was not speaking in general terms but in response to a direct question about his own murders.
The transcript shows that the PUP leader, who in January was co-opted on to Belfast City Council, was asked whether he had regrets about murdering Edward Morgan and Michael Loughran.
He replied: “It’s very easy for you to say that. But what I will say to you is that I didn’t do anything without intelligence”, before going on to talk about his victims’ families. There was no discussion about UVF ‘tactics’ until later in the interview.
He also said: “I will not deny my past and I certainly have no regrets in terms of my past because I believe that I contributed to preventing a united Ireland.”
But when asked by Stephen Nolan whether he regretted his own murders, he said: “I’ve already said that I do.”
When asked if he had chosen random Catholics to be murdered, Mr Hutchinson said it was “not fair to the families” to be “specific about this”.
Mr Hutchinson said today that he had gone through a long period of “self-reflection” while in jail, and out of that had decided to “build a society that was fair, that was equal and where nobody would lose their lives”.
TUV leader Jim Allister condemned Mr Hutchinson’s remarks.
He said: “Billy Hutchinson’s comments in the News Letter last week and on the Nolan Show this morning – where instead of repairing the damage he added to it – showed that he and his party are in no position to take the battle to Sinn Fein.
“His language about a ‘hierarchy of victims’, the ‘conflict’ and ‘war’ was identical to the language of Sinn Fein/IRA.
“Today he claimed ‘remorse’ for what he did, but refused to even say sorry for the murders he committed. More than that, while he rowed back from his suggestion that the people he murdered were in some way linked to the IRA there was no apology to their families for his comments in last week’s News Letter.”
He added: “Anyone who thought that the PUP might be a credible force to take the political battle to republicans will now, if they hadn’t before given their previous support for a designated days policy when it came to the flying of the Union Flag, have cause to stop and think.”