PUP man continues to back Hutchinson after feeble election results

Billy Hutchinson polled fewer votes in North Belfast than the last time he stood in 2003
Billy Hutchinson polled fewer votes in North Belfast than the last time he stood in 2003

The Assembly election results represent a very poor showing for the UVF-linked Progressive Unionist Party – and particularly for leader Billy Hutchinson.

The party fielded six candidates in total, in North, South and East Belfast, plus East Antrim, Upper Bann and East Londonderry.

In terms of first preference votes, the party’s results ranged from a paltry 430 votes for Ian Shanks in South Belfast, to a fairly respectable 1,772 in East Belfast, won by Dr John Kyle.

Shankill-based councillor Hutchinson himself drew 1,238 first preference votes in North Belfast, putting him in 10th place in that constituency – behind Fiona Ferguson, a virtually unknown People Before Profit candidate.

It is a worse showing than when he last stood in the constituency, in the 2003 Assembly elections. At that time, Hutchinson won 1,358 votes.

Ken Wilkinson, who sits on the party executive and is current prisons spokesman, based in Antrim town, was asked if questions will now be raised about Mr Hutchinson’s leadership, and if it will be felt that now is the time for a change.

“No, I don’t think so,” he said. “I’d still stand behind Billy 100 per cent.”

He said both Mr Hutchinson and the wider party are “disappointed” with the result.

Mr Hutchinson – an ex-UVF man – had controversially defended his involvement in the historic sectarian murder of two Catholic Belfast men in an interview with the News Letter in 2014.

When it was put to Mr Wilkinson that unionists do not want to vote for a man with such a background, he said: “What happened in the past, I know that there’s nothing we can do about that.

“But I know the work that Billy does on the ground – tremendous work, as a very, very good and active councillor.

“But on the unionist side of things, people just don’t seem to be able to move on, and that’s the sad thing about it.”