William Smith (loyalist)

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William Smith (sometimes spelt William Smyth) is a Northern Irish Loyalist former paramilitary and politician. He has been involved in loyalism in various capacities for at least forty years.

Early life[edit]

Smith was born in Mountjoy Street on Belfast's Shankill Road into a poor Protestant family of 3 sisters and a brother. There was rumoured Native American ancestry in his family; therefore in his youth he acquired the lifelong nickname "Plum" after The Beano character Little Plum.[1] He was raised in a working class home where his parents sent him to Sunday school and taught him to respect the law.[2] Like many of his contemporaries from similar backgrounds on both sides of the divide the outbreak of the socio-political and religious conflict that came to be known as The Troubles in 1969 saw him become involved in paramilitarism

Move to loyalism[edit]

Following the introduction of internment in 1971 Smith worked for a time as an orderly in Crumlin Road Gaol where he served 6 months for rioting against the British Army in the Highfield estate. Unbeknownst to the prison authorities Smith was actually a mole for the imprisoned Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) leader Gusty Spence, passing on information about the conditions in which the internees were being held.[3]

Around this time Smith was a member of the vigilante group and was part of a group within the SDA that later became the Red Hand Commando., including founder John McKeague, who decided to form a new, more active organisation.[4] In 1972 Smith was a founder member of this new group, the Red Hand Commando, which quickly became an elite squad augmenting the UVF.[5]

On 1 July Smith was one of two armed RHC men to meet Spence when he was released from prison to attend the wedding of his daughter to Winkie Rea. He took Spence to a meeting of the UVF leadership where a plan was hatched to keep Spence out of prison. A few days later when Spence was being returned to jail by his nephew Jim Curry their car was stopped on Belfast's Springmartin Road and Spence "kidnapped" by UVF/RHC operatives.[5]

Soon after this incident Smith was himself arrested for his part in the attempted murder of Catholic civilian Joseph Hall, a drive-by shooting that Smith would later admit was motivated by "pure sectarianism and bigotry". Smith was handed a ten year prison sentence for the shooting.[6]

In the Maze[edit]

Along with the likes of Billy Hutchinson, David Ervine and Billy Mitchell, Smith was one of those UVF members sent to the Maze prison in the 1970s to be won over by Gusty Spence to his newer, more politicised, way of thinking.[7] This cadre of Spence-trained political figures would go on to play a leading role in bringing about the UVF ceasefire in 1994 as members of the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP).[8]

Political activity[edit]

Ex-Prisoners Interpretative Centre, Woodvale Road, where Smith is based

Through Spence, Smith established contacts with Joe Colgan, a Dublin-based Irish republican, and in March 1993 the two arranged an event in the city at which both a member of the UVF and the trade unionist Chris Hudson were in attendance. As a result of the meeting Hudson opened a regular channel of contact with the UVF through which he exhorted them to seek peace.[9]

The Combined Loyalist Military Command (CLMC) ceasefire was announced on 13 October 1994 at Fernhill House, Glencairn when Gusty Spence read out a joint statement of ceasefire flanked by Smith and Jim McDonald of the PUP and Ulster Democratic Party representatives Gary McMichael, Davy Adams and John White.[10] Smith was the chairman of the press conference at which Spence read out the statement.[11] For a time he had served as Chairman of the Progressive Unionist Party itself.[12]

Smith would go on to devote his attentions to community work with the Ex-Prisoners Interpretative Centre[13] although he has remained a spokesman for the PUP.[14] He was also an unsuccessful candidate for the PUP in the Belfast City Council elections in 2001 in the Court district electoral area.[15]

In 2009 Smith was strongly critical of the report issued by the Consultative Group on the Past, as chaired by Robin Eames and Denis Bradley. He criticised the work of the Historical Enquiries Team, which investigated unsolved incidents from the Troubles, arguing that it was opening "a can of worms" and preventing "closure".[16] He compared any attempts to reopen investigations and bring about criminal proceedings to the Nuremberg trials.[11]

Speaking out in 2012 about Unionist concerns at the Maze prison becoming an IRA shrine with a proposed Conflict Transformation Centre,Smith stated that if Loyalists themselves got involved in the scheme they could tell their side of the story and no one particular group could use it as a shrine.[17]

Opposition to trials[edit]

In 2010 Smith attacked the work of Victims Commissioner Brendan McAllister, who was investigating the activities of the UVF unit based on the Mount Vernon estate, north Belfast, during the Troubles. Smith argued that such investigations contravened a guarantee he had been given by Mo Mowlam that offences committed before 1998 could not be prosecuted due to a general amnesty.[18] Soon afterwards Smith claimed that a document released by the British and Irish governments proved that the deal was in place as he claimed.[19] In support of his stance Smith even gave evidence at the trial of Gerry McGeough, arguing that the republican should not have been tried for the 1981 attempted murder of Sammy Brush because of the supposed deal being in place.[12]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Peter Taylor, Loyalists, Bloomsbury, 2000, p. 45
  2. ^ Taylor, Loyalists, p. 46
  3. ^ Roy Garland, Gusty Spence, Blackstaff Press, 2001, p. 121
  4. ^ Taylor, Loyalists, p. 80
  5. ^ a b Taylor, Loyalists, p. 111
  6. ^ Taylor, Loyalists, pp. 112-113
  7. ^ Garland, Gusty Spence, p. 174
  8. ^ Taylor, Loyalists, p. 141
  9. ^ Garland, Gusty Spence, pp. 285-286
  10. ^ Taylor, Loyalists, p. 233
  11. ^ a b We can’t have any ‘Nuremberg’ trials here, say loyalists
  12. ^ a b 'Sinn Féin said if I shut up I wouldn't be shut up'
  13. ^ Spray-can artists transform 600 yards of grubby peace wall
  14. ^ Picture from Northern Ireland you thought you’d never see
  15. ^ Belfast City Council Elections 1993-2011
  16. ^ Why no one wants the Eames/Bradley report to open up a new can of worms
  17. ^ "Maze can only become IRA shrine if loyalists allow it" Belfast Telegraph 17 September 2012
  18. ^ Operation Ballast concerns raised
  19. ^ Loyalist Plum: My 'proof' of amnesty deal for prisoners