PUP leader Billy Hutchinson has delivered a withering rebuke to flag protester and aspiring politician Jamie Bryson and suggested that some of his pro-UVF comments are an attempt to win votes from UVF members.
The loyalist party’s leader told the News Letter that he could not understand why the young Bangor man, who came to prominence during the Union Flag protests, was standing in the European election.
Mr Hutchinson — who as a UVF member helped murder two Catholics on the Falls Road in 1974 —speculated that comments from Mr Bryson in which he has defended the UVF may be an attempt to win paramilitatries’ votes.
Mr Bryson has described the UVF as “true patriots, not terrorists” and last year a PUP member said that when Mr Bryson was on remand over charges linked to the flag protests he had asked to be moved to a section of the prison reserved for the UVF and UDA “for his own safety”.
Asked if Mr Bryson was a member or had any links with the party, Mr Hutchinson said: “No. He has no relationship with the party,” before adding sarcastically: “People who are very supportive of the UVF is [sic] great. But, you know, where have they been? That’s my view.
“To be supportive of the UVF at this stage is great and I know that he wasn’t old enough [to be involved during the Troubles] but from my point of view we need to move forward in this society and the UVF needs to work out what its place is and what its new place is and when they work it out, then I suppose they will tell everybody. But from my point of view this is not about the UVF per se; this has to be about the citizens of Europe.
“Standing in Europe, I don’t know what he’s going to do for the UVF, if that’s what he’s arguing. Maybe, you know, there’s a school of thought that by being supportive of the UVF it will get him votes. But my experience is that that isn’t the case because most UVF men are DUP supporters, or those who vote anyway.”
He added: “I don’t know where Jamie’s coming from. I think that Jamie’s a nice young man; I think that he has a lot of views. But he confuses me with his views.”
Mr Bryson — who got 167 votes in the 2011 council election — has launched an online appeal for the £5,000 European election deposit. According to the ‘go fund me’ website, he has raised just £100, though Mr Bryson claimed that he had raised £1,200 elsewhere “through the auctioning of a number of items”.
l In tomorrow’s News Letter: Billy Hutchinson talks about his UVF past and the PUP’s future
Party still coy on Euro election
With six pro-Union parties or individuals already vowing to contest May’s European election, there has been speculation as to whether the PUP and TUV will stand. The DUP, UUP, UKIP, Conservatives, NI21 and Jamie Bryson are contesting seats.
Billy Hutchinson said: “We have been looking at contesting the European election and I think that we will make that decision shortly.” He said the decision of the party — which unlike the major unionism parties is a strong supporter of the EU — would be based on the wider benefit for unionism but stressed that the party’s main focus was on the elections to the new ‘super councils’. He said that as the 11 new councils would have more powers, it was important for working class communities to be represented.