Billy Hutchinson, leader of the Progressive Unionist Party, declared himself the saviour of Northern Ireland and the Union, as detailed in an interview published by the Belfast News Letter yesterday.

Belfast News Letter 19 March 2014

The murders mentioned happened in 1974; crimes to which Hutchinson pleaded guilty at that time.
In the News Letter interview, Hutchinson stated quite clearly he wouldn’t try to justify what he did or didn’t do. Well, aside from suggesting that the two Catholics murdered were perhaps IRA members based on “intelligence” prior to venturing on to the Falls Road that evening, he didn’t try to justify it. Ok, aside from that, he did also mention that the IRA had left him with no option to do what he done. But apart from those couple of points he didn’t try to justify what he done.

Actually, declaring that his part in those murders helped solidify and strengthen the Union will no doubt provide a justification for his deeds among few Loyalists, those Loyalists that perhaps regard Michael Stone, Lenny Murphy, Johnny Adair et al as, “Loyalist Heroes”.

That is maybe a bit unfair. Many people that I have engaged with on this, of sane and rational mind, did feel that Hutchinson was simply being honest and that such honesty should have been welcomed. And I respect that viewpoint. But was he really being honest?

Here is the brutal fact of the matter. The only thing that Billy Hutchinson done when he played his part in murdering two Catholics was push more young Catholic men and women towards the IRA in their call to fight against the Union, the threat of Loyalist terror, and the “British occupation”. And by the same token, with every atrocity the IRA committed, more young Protestants were driven to take up arms to protect their own communities and defend the Union.

That is the reality, the honesty. Both “sides” were instrumental in indirectly causing the deaths of people on their own side as well as directly causing them on the opposite side. All those that took up arms illegally in the “conflict” have the blood of their own people on their hands as well as those they killed or maimed … fact!

Billy Hutchinson no more prevented the unification of Ireland than my ordering a Burger King was instrumental in saving the Irish fast food industry from the horse meat scandal. It is a preposterous and deluded notion, self-serving, arrogant, and completely callous.

The article itself is worth reading if only for the fact it is so hard to believe that a leader of any Northern Ireland political party would make such brash statements. It’s all true though.

It was said by some that perhaps the News Letter had taken his statements out of context. But a YouTube video of a Mr. Hutchinson interview also surfaced yesterday. Unfortunately it appears that the words conveyed in the article were an accurate reflection of Mr. Hutchinson’s belief in his role in two murders based on the video evidence.

There comes a time when you simply can’t justify the unjustifiable or defend the indefensible. Indeed, at the time of typing this, there has been no official word from Billy Hutchinson or the PUP on the newspaper article in question (I do stress official).

Well, when I say you can’t defend such a thing, certain PUP party members (unofficially) made a hell of a stab at it via Twitter (of all places), applauding the honesty of their leader, some suggesting they were privy to what was actually said, and the usual “whataboutery” that has become a strapline for political debate in Northern Ireland.

All, of course, complete pish.

The News Letter article was really the icing on the cake for a party that many years ago showed so much promise under the late David Ervine but in recent weeks has sadly shown glaring chinks in its inclusive, for the people, armour.

Gareth Cole (PUP Carrickfergus) is everything that David Ervine would have deplored in a human being, much less a Northern Ireland politician. His Twitter feed is nothing short of sectarian bile. There is no effort on his part to disguise his personal distaste of all things Republican and Nationalist. Which, for a party that talks about progress (hell, it’s even in the name) is a crying shame.

He actually said recently, “Why would I do anything for Republicans?”

This is hardly the voice of someone working for all the people. Indeed he has taken great pride in demonstrating on Twitter and Facebook on a number of occasions that Catholics are indeed not welcome in Carrickfergus before and during his time as a PUP candidate. And he makes no apology for it. In fact, when presented with his past expressions of hatred towards Catholic communities a PUP colleague suggested that the comments were, “three years old”, and in that time Gareth had, “changed”.

Obviously Gareth has not changed that much in 3 years …

His glaring ineptitude and appetite for riling communities against all things Nationalist and Irish was exploited over the St Patrick’s Day weekend when he was deliberately duped on no less than four occasions. The duping involved the sharing of pictures that were, allegedly, of St Patrick’s Day parades that took place in Belfast last Sunday and New York on Monday past featuring derogatory and sectarian sentiment. The pics were actually taken some years previous and had nothing to do with the parades of that day. Gareth had also forgotten about the time difference between us and our neighbours over 3,000 miles away on Monday having produced glorious photographic reports of an event that hadn’t even started!

Why would any “progressive” party have such a person associated with them? Much less put them forward as a candidate? Unless of course you were trying to attract a certain kind of vote? Taking all of his prejudice out of the equation, what kind of person would actually want to be represented by someone that almost daily demonstrates extreme incompetence and seems to feel that the only priority he has is to get as many flags and banners up around Carrickfergus as possible while making sly sectarian comments?

In the wake of an arrest of a 75 year old man with regards to the UVF murder of 15 people at McGurks Bar in Belfast in 1971, many PUP members were appalled that someone had been arrested while IRA suspects were free on as part of the On The Run scheme. Didn’t matter that the man may have been instrumental in killing 15 people, it was PUP feeling that an “all or nothing” should apply to all terrorist related investigations and arrests until the OTR issue was resolved.

I kid you not! Take in those words; “all or nothing”. Because of the OTR’s (which everyone except the PUP seems to understand the concept) they are suggesting that judicial process for all terrorist related crimes should halt until all OTR’s are arrested for crimes which …… well if they understood what the OTR scheme was they would likely appreciate how ridiculous the “all or nothing” statement is.

But I did give the benefit of the doubt and decided to address offline my concerns with one PUP member that has also declared an “all or nothing” approach to justice. Not a single solitary question I asked was answered directly. Instead everything I asked was responded to with a question.

As a voter and someone that very openly voiced approval and defended the PUP I found the tact from a party member highly offensive. Maybe I am too moderate for PUP to take the time with to be honest and frank …

Politically and publically, PUP (and others) describe OTR and handling of Republican/Nationalist crime as a “two-tiered judicial system” as opposed to the “all or nothing” reserved for social media. Two-tiered does have a nicer ring to it I will give them that.

Incidentally, not one PUP person was appalled (apparently) by the arrest of Ivor Bell in relation to the murder of Jean McConville on Tuesday, despite all OTR’s being free still from arrest or prosecution. There is a phrase for that way of thinking …. now what is it? Double standards? Politically biased? Prejudiced? Two tie.…. ah forget it!

An additional concern for me is the type of supporter that PUP seems to have gathered over the past weeks and months.

Like most of you, I am always horrified to see messages on social media from individuals spouting vile sectarian and racist comments. A closer look at a lot of those accounts, many have in their “Bio” or “About Me” that they support the PUP. On closer examination of the “followed by” or “friends” of said offensive accounts, PUP members and candidates seem to be on those lists!

I personally have nothing to do with Facebook because of the spew that began to fill my page and unfriending was becoming a tedious task, especially for a platform I barely used anyway. Twitter though I do follow all that have engaged with me. I do not discriminate against ignorance and stupidity. But what I will do is challenge someone directly that chooses to fill my timeline with sick, uneducated, bile.

PUP members seem to abstain from such direct challenges towards Loyalists that are being sectarian or racially abusive. Well, there was this one time, when I called out a user, proclaiming he was a “proud Loyalist and PUP supporter”, who had been giving Linda Ervine abuse about her promotion of the Irish language. Two PUP members that were following the same individual quickly unfollowed him, two still follow him today. Point being, why did they not also call him out on his abhorrent behaviour?

By contrast, if you are promoting Republican/Nationalist sectarianism then watch those PUP tweets and retweets fly! Double standards? Politically biased? Prejudiced? Two tie.….  let’s not go there again …
I suppose the early sign that the PUP was starting to weaken was back in November 2012 when they changed their position on the flags issue. To quote Billy Hutchinson on the change of tact:

“The reason I want to change it is because of the behaviour of republican/nationalist representatives. It seems to me that they are not interested in the Good Friday Agreement, but what they are trying to do is remove all our Britishness. While they continue to try and remove our Britishness be it through parades or flags then we as a party will take a totally different position than we have in the past”.

Never once in my life have I ever felt that a flag, or lack thereof, has defined how British I am! The very statement undermines everything that it is to be British. The below is a word or two from a chap called Toby, just an ordinary guy, and what he feels it is to be British:
Being British is about loving this country, remembering the past and honouring the people who fought from the battlefields of France, to the deserts of North Africa, into the sands of Arabia and jungles of Asia, but also look to future, learn from history and build upon past mistakes, be proud to be British as we are a happy race of man, these islands a testament of Natures Beauty, we have inhabited these islands for Thousands of Years, we built a culture and identity that is uniquely British, we built an Empire stood defiantly against the evils of Hitler Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union.

Today I think the only way to describe Britain is from a Poem by Alfred Tennyson;
“Though we are not that strength which on old days moved Earth and Heaven, that which we are, we are, one equal temper of Heroic hearts made weak by time but not in will, to strive to seek, but not to yield”
Remember We Are, We Can & We Will, go forward like a breath exhaled from the Earth….
I have travelled and lived in many countries all over the world for the past 13 years or so. I never in my whole time felt any less British because of the lack of a Union flag. And by the same token I have never felt marginalised or threatened by the flag of another country, anywhere! A flag will never define me or my British culture and it is abhorrent to suggest otherwise. My Britishness will be defined by my conduct, my nature, my pride, my tolerance, my empathy, my kindness, my charity, my acceptance, and my passion. Not even the loudest voice or biggest bully can take my Britishness away, much less the removal of any flag.

But, again, let’s be honest. Today’s flag protests are not about culture and Britishness. It’s a vote winner prompted by community leaders used to rile up the “less moderate” in to a frenzy. It is pathetic and cowardly that leaders of Unionist communities try to assert the flag issue as the denigration of British identity and the natural progression towards a united Ireland.

The flag issue is also being used, sadly somewhat effectively, as a platform for Unionist politicians to avoid dealing with real issues. And this riles me no end!

If you had a choice between, a) the Union flag flying above City Hall every day, or, b) improved housing, better education, more jobs, higher standard of healthcare, stronger policing, healthier economy, more social outlets, and everything that comes with effective politics, what would you choose?

Do not let your politicians hide behind flag and parade issues! Option b) is the sum of what makes Britain great! The right to have all that via democratic process is a right given over to us by brave men and women, both British and Irish, whom fought and died for our right to democracy and a better way of life.
The erosion of our culture and our identity is not through the removal of any flag. It is through the unwillingness or inability of leadership to deliver on what we as British citizens have a right to have.

Another thing that annoyed me in the News Letter article that Billy Hutchinson said was that working class Protestants were being treated like, “poor white trash”. This was clearly a play on a David Ervine quote where he (David) said, “sometimes it feels like I am representing poor white trash, always shouting about what them over there get and we get nothing”.

Surely it is up to the Unionist politicians to turn the tide, no? Or maybe it is up to the working class electorate to vote in those that will fight for their rights to everything “themmuns” are getting? Pretty sure that was what David meant; get off your arse and do something about it instead of whinging because no one is handing it to you!

Say what you want about Sinn Fein (and I know some of you will), but when I look at the Falls Road today and compare it to that of 20 years ago I am blown away by the rejuvenation on display!

I would love to see the same on the Shankill Road and other loyalist working class communities. I am just not sure which party will step away from flag protests long enough to deliver an equally resplendent deal for us.

I am not ignorant of why Northern Ireland is British. Much blood has been spilt over decades and centuries of conflict to establish the borders as they are today. I am fully aware of what the Union flag symbolises to some that I share this country with. I fully understand also why parades can be found objectionable by some from either side of the divide. I fully respect the desire of others to identify themselves as Irish. I embrace the fact that despite my British background I have roots and heritage in Ireland, much in the same way as the Welsh and Scottish identify themselves. I have Roman Catholic friends, close friends, and we share a mutual respect for each other’s beliefs.

I am fearless in understanding and appreciating the realities and history Northern Ireland is steeped in. I will never succumb to blind hatred for someone because of their religion or nationality. Another facet of being British I guess …

David Ervine was never one to shy away from the person he was in the past. He always made clear his intention to bring terrorists to the negotiating table and the reasons why this was essential to moving away from conflict. He never denied that he was without remorse for the Republican terrorists that had died at the hands of Loyalists terror groups, but never once glorified or justified the deaths of any “civilians”. He was never afraid to voice his support for the Good Friday Agreement. He understood why parity of esteem and inclusion for all was vital to peace in Northern Ireland. He never spoke like a politician, avoided double speak, always open, frank, intelligent, and honest in any conversation he had about his party and his policies. He never wavered from his beliefs and ideals in an effort to chase votes. He was a man of integrity and a true leader in the Unionist community.

His death remains the greatest loss to Northern Ireland politics today. David Ervine was the reason why I advocated the PUP to anyone, both Catholic and Protestant (and those undecided in their beliefs).

Yesterday proved that the PUP as I knew it died with David Ervine. But let’s face it, had I not been so blinkered I would have seen that the spirit of Ervine’s PUP had died some time ago.

And that is why I can no longer support the party. While inept candidates are put forward, a continued regression back to “whataboutery” and divisive thinking, and by making real issues secondary to a flag on City Hall, and a reluctance to break ties with the UVF, there is nothing the PUP can offer me or my community.

But please do not misunderstand me for a moment. There are some truly bright lights in the PUP who have lots to offer. And I for one will continue to have no issue promoting anything or anyone that can give a positive contribution to Loyalist communities, irrespective of their party or background. Pity politicians cannot take the same view instead of scuppering great initiatives from other parties to win brownie points.
Will the PUP leadership allow those bright lights to pursue productive engagements to make a difference? Or will flags and parades continue to be the priority across the party? Certainly it seems most will unwaveringly toe the party line. But the danger in that is that as the party policy continues to move away from progressive politics there will be casualties within the party. Members will have to make choices as to stay the course or jump ship for their sake of their own political aspirations. And if members begin to leave for pastures new, the party itself will fall in to disarray.

Aside from losing my vote, the PUP has made it clear by its actions and conduct that it no longer seeks the moderate vote. Or at least the moderates are highly unlikely to support PUP in future.

So now we have DUP, UUP, and PUP all chasing the same vote. What the PUP has effectively done is split the vote thus weakening the DUP and UUP in the process. It is nothing more than an over confidence that PUP will win anywhere it stands in. But by God they are going to make it tough for the big two. Or, if like me, PUP was my alternate to the DUP and UUP, has Billy Hutchinson and company allowed votes to slip away from all three Unionist parties?

Was it a smart strategy to destabilise the big two? Or an ill educate move that will see support for the Unionist parties dwindle? I guess May 2014 will tell the tale ….