PUP leader Billy Hutchinson’s defence of his 1974 decision to murder two Catholics as they walked to work has been condemned.
In an interview with the News Letter published yesterday, Mr Hutchinson made clear that he did not regret his actions and believed that he and the UVF had helped stop a united Ireland.
He also attempted to suggest that the murders — which the trial judge said had been random sectarian killings — were based on “intelligence”.
Alliance MP Naomi Long said that his comments “show a callous disregard for victims of the Troubles”.
The East Belfast MP said: “There can never be any reasoning for the taking of life or injuring of people. The use of violence was wrong during the Troubles and remains wrong today.
“For Mr Hutchinson to try to justify violence with his suggestion that it was a constructive move will do nothing but poison our present and our future and cause further grief and pain to victims’ relatives.”
She added: “Mr Hutchinson would do well to reflect on the pain caused not just at the time but by his continued attempts to justify the unjustifiable.”
SDLP MLA Alban Maginness said the comments were “utterly horrendous and have caused disgust and outrage in communities across the north”.
He said: “The notion that the murder of two innocent Catholics as they made their way along the Falls Road contributed to a political goal in any way is totally abhorrent.
“Mr Hutchinson’s insistence that he has ‘no regrets’ are in sharp contrast to the work of his predecessor David Ervine in cementing peace and striving for reconciliation.”
Sinn Fein councillor Niall O’Donnghaile said: “If Billy Hutchinson truly wants to be ‘part of the solution’ then he should tell the UVF to go away.”
NI Conservatives’ co-chairman Trevor Ringland accused the former UVF man of attempting to “rewrite history” and said the remarks “represent a dangerous strain of thinking”.
During a wide-ranging interview with the News Letter, Mr Hutchinson was asked what the murders of Michael Loughran and Edward Morgan had done for unionism. He said he would not “try to justify what I do or what I didn’t do...the reason I wouldn’t try to justify my actions is because I wouldn’t expect middle-class unionists to agree with what I did, but what I will say to you is that we’re not in a united Ireland. I regret every death in this society, but the point is that I will not in any way diminish or try to take away from what I did in the past...”
He also tried to link the builder and builder’s labourer to the IRA, saying: “I didn’t do anything without intelligence.”
But the trial judge told Mr Hutchinson and his co-accused: “They were cold-blooded murders.”
He told the killers they had “set out and toured Belfast” looking for victims.