The leader of the PUP has claimed that his murder of two Roman Catholic men on their way to work in 1974 helped prevent a united Ireland.
In an interview with the News Letter, Billy Hutchinson made clear that he had “no regrets in terms of my past because I believe that I contributed to preventing a united Ireland”.
And he attempted to claim that the two men he murdered had links to the IRA.
In 1974, Mr Hutchinson and UVF youth member Thomas Winstone shot the two Catholics – Michael Loughran and Edward Morgan – as they walked along the Falls Road to work. Hutchinson pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to life imprisonment.
The trial was told that the victims had been selected at random and the 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.
When Mr Hutchinson was asked how, when voters come to judge what he has done in his life, they should assess whether his murders advanced the cause of unionism, he said he would not “try to justify what I do or what I didn’t do”.
However, he then attempted to do just that, trying to suggest that the two young men murdered were not totally innocent.
“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... from 1995, when I was in prison, I’ve been involved in the peace process.”
When asked if he regretted having killed two working-class Catholics on their way to earn a living, he said: “What I’m saying is that I regret every murder, but let’s be clear that 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.
“So we need to be very careful because those people have family who are left and I don’t particularly want to get into that conversation in public, but my view is that I was fighting a war and I fought it. I can’t turn the clock back. My view is that the IRA left me with no option.”
Asked if he really believed that he was left with no option but to shoot two people on their way to work, he said: “The IRA left me no option but to carry out the tactics that we had; the IRA weren’t in the back of Land Rovers with uniforms on and the UVF had a very clear policy at one stage that they would drive the IRA out of the community. The strategy didn’t work, but it certainly drove them out later on whenever they started killing members of Sinn Fein and the IRA.”
He claimed that “loyalists are treated as white trash” and said that there is a “two-tier justice system” where loyalists are treated less favourably than republicans. Nevertheless, Mr Hutchinson said: “There is no room for violence in this society.”
The former MLA, who in January was co-opted on to Belfast City Council, accused “big house unionism” of mopping up votes in loyalist areas “but leaving a trail of destruction behind them”.
He said that loyalists unhappy with the current system will not change it by refusing to vote.
Mr Hutchinson said that the party had about 25 council candidates who would be standing in areas such as Foyle, East Londonderry, Ballymena, Lisburn Lurgan, Portadown, Armagh and Belfast. He admitted that the party hadn’t managed to attract support in Fermanagh or Tyrone and he would not put forward candidates in those areas where there is no constituency association.
He said that there would be former soldiers and young women standing in the election, “neither of whom have ever been connected to the UVF”.
Mr Hutchinson made clear that he did not want to spend all his time talking about the UVF but wanted to “move on from all that”, though he acknowledged that many people would bring him back to that issue.
He said that he wanted to see the UVF at the stage “where they are politically sophisticated enough to make their own decisions”, but that he was there to give them “political advice”.
Asked if they had requested such advice, he said: “Well, they haven’t asked me for political advice [since he became leader].”
Mr Hutchinson said that he recognised that he was “part of the problem [in the Troubles], but I want to be part of the solution”.
He proposed that paramilitary organisations such as the UVF should take “corporate responsibility” for their actions.
‘Corporate responsibility’ would mean, for instance, the UVF admitting that it was responsible for the McGurk’s Bar bombing or the IRA admitting to the Kingsmills massacre.
“We don’t believe that any individual is going to take responsibility because of what happens [prosecution, etc],” he said.