Dying loyalist admits: Yes, I joined the UVF. No, I do not regret it – but I am sorry people died
A dying loyalist political figure has admitted having joined the UVF and tells the News Letter he does not regret it – but has also added: “I’m sorry that anyone lost their lives.”
Ken Wilkinson, a spokesman for the PUP, made the comments in an interview with the paper as he prepares to die from a terminal lung condition.
He believes he could have just weeks left, so this may be the last interview he does.
He spoke out against sectarianism and criminality, but also feels UVF membership had made him a “wiser” man.
Mr Wilkinson, now aged 72, has appeared on TV screens and in the press many times down they years, whether it was speaking against supergrass trials, attacking the Historical Enquiries Team, or condemning drug dealers operating in his own community.
He said he faced risks because he favoured UVF involvement in the peace process (which began in earnest with the combined UVF/UDA ceasefire of 1994) and his property has been attacked in recent years in incidents thought to be linked to drugs.
Despite often being described as a “councillor”, that is wrong: he never actually got elected, polling a few hundred votes on occasion but missing out on a seat. He has also stood unsuccessfully as an MLA.
He has been in the PUP since the mid-1980s.
He continues to sit on its executive, is the long-time spokesman for the party in south Antrim, and says that he is currently the UVF’s “welfare officer” for prisoners.
Was he ever jailed?: “Aye, but it was only for a short time. It was for giving a policeman a very bad beating. That must’ve been – phew – it’s that far back I can’t remember now.”
But he added: “Over the years that has mended. Now I have a very good working relationship; I’ve worked for 20 years on the Policing Community Safety Partnership [in Antrim]. I’ve worked in that and other things with the police for over 20 years. I’ve been pretty pro-active within my community.”
Originally from east Belfast, he moved to Antrim town and worked in the Michelin plant and as a plasterer – continuing to labour up until a few years ago.
Asked if he had joined the UVF, he said: “I’m on my last days. And there’s no sense in denying anything now, you know?”
When the question was put to him a second time, he said: “Well I was in the UVF, yeah.”
(A report in The Irish Times in 2004 said at that time Mr Wilkinson “categorically denies being in the outlawed paramilitary organisation”.)
Did he hold any position like brigadier? “No.”
Did he ever kill anyone? “No, I didn’t, no.”
Was he ever involved in bombings or shootings? “Er… I couldn’t answer that.”
Asked why not, he replied: “Well it may involve other things. And I have my own family to think about too.
“You know, none of my family have ever been connected with anything.
“Every one of them has come up good.
“My sons and daughters got their own business, worked very hard all their lives. And I don’t want to put them in jeopardy.”
‘LITTLE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CATHOLIC AND PROTESTANT WORKING CLASS’
He went on to say that “whenever I got heavily involved within the PUP, I did the very best that I could for both sides of the community”.
He said: “During my early days I worked around all different areas; the Short Strand, east Belfast, the Falls Road, Crumlin Road, in the building trade.
“And whenever I looked at their houses and our houses, there wasn’t a lot of difference...
“There wasn’t much difference between Protestant working class and Catholic working class – they both suffered.”
Back in 1994, he said: “We took a lot of flak from certain people within loyalism. [They] said we were traitors, we were sell-out merchants, because we were sitting down. But you have to make a move if you need peace. You just can’t go on and on and on.”
Did he ever feel under threat from fellow UVF men? “Oh yeah,” he said.
He added: “No matter what anyone says, if it hadn’t have been for the PUP or the UPRG, there wouldn’t have been a peace process.”
Did he regret joining the UVF? “No... I think it made me a better person.
“Maybe not better. Maybe wiser... The way I looked at it, whenever I saw some of the atrocities that the IRA was committing, that really sickened me.
“Whenever I saw Kingsmills and things like that there, people have to really admit that the UVF were more-or-less a reactionary force... They retaliated, same as the UFF, though I can’t speak for them.”
WHAT OF THE INNOCENT VICTIMS?
When it comes to what he would say to all the innocent victims of loyalism, he replied: “I’m sorry that anyone lost their lives. It is really a pity that anyone had to have lost their lives.
“I remember Bloody Friday. I was working on the Shankill Road. I was building a chimney and I remember it well.
“I heard every bomb and saw every puff of smoke going up.
“I was on the roof and I thought: My goodness.
“All you heard was bang after bang. You actually saw the smoke before you heard the bang, you know?
“Things like that drove people... that’s what motivated them.
“And their reaction was: join a paramiltary group.”
These days, he admits the PUP is “struggling”.
Asked if it will still exist in 10 or 15 years he said: “Hard one to answer.”
One reason for the party’s falling fortunes is that the DUP “stole our clothes”, he said.
“You know, these people [had been saying]: ‘Never-never-never talk to these republicans’. And look at it now,
“People sat on the fence and waited ‘til the thing was right. We fought the war.”
The UVF murdered well over 400 people from the late 60s to the turn of the millennium.
Exact figures are difficult to agree on, due to the use of cover-names and unclaimed killings, but its affiliated group the Red Hand Commando killed at least 13 more.
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