PUP leader 'defends past murders'

PUP leader 'defends past murders'

PUP leader Billy Hutchinson, who was convicted of murdering two Catholic men in 1974, has said he has "no regrets" about his past because he believes he "contributed to preventing a united Ireland".

In an interview with the News Letter, Mr Hutchinson claims to recognise that he was "part of the problem" during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, but that he wants to be "part of the solution".In October 1974, he and an accomplice shot dead two construction workers - 18-year-old Michael Loughran and 27-year-old Edward Morgan - as they walked to work along the Falls Road.In the interview published on Wednesday, Mr Hutchinson said: "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 can’t turn the clock back. My view is that the IRA left me with no option.Billy Hutchinson, PUPThe former MLA had previously served as a Belfast City councillor and returned to the role when he was co-opted in January of this year to represent the Shankill area.Mr Hutchinson told the News Letter that he can't change his past, but that he has been involved with the peace process since 1995.On the subject of the shootings and loss of lives, he claimed that the IRA had left him "no option".He said: "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 Féin and the IRA."While claiming loyalists are treated as "white trash" and less favourably than republicans, Mr Hutchinson added: "There is no room for violence in this society."He has also proposed that paramilitaries, including the UVF, should take "corporate responsibility" and admit to the atrocities they carried out - but he doesn't believe individuals will risk prosecution.Alliance MP Naomi Long has responded to the newspaper interview, accusing Billy Hutchinson of showing "a callous disregard" for Troubles victims.We have the right to expect better from our politicians across the board.Naomi Long, Alliance"For Mr Hutchinson to try to justify violence with his suggestion that it was a constructive move will do nothing but poison our present and our future and cause further grief and pain to victims' relatives," Ms Long said."I think that Mr Hutchinson would do well to reflect on the pain caused, not just at the time, but by his continued attempts to justify the unjustifiable."SDLP MLA Alban Maginness has branded the comments as "totally abhorrent" and has further called for Billy Hutchinson to clarify or withdraw them immediately."Mr Hutchinson's insistence that he has 'no regrets' are in sharp contrast to the work of his predecessor David Ervine in cementing peace and striving for reconciliation," he said."His words may also inspire the latest generation of paramilitaries who have rejected the democratic wishes of the people of this island for peace. His assertion that violence prevented Irish Unity sends a dangerous message to those who now seek to use violence in the pursuit of a political agenda."

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