Northern Ireland news

Senior loyalist William 'Plum' Smith has died

William 'Plum' Smith (second from right), with former UVF leader Gusty Spence, Gary McMichael, David Irvine and David Adams announcing the loyalist ceasefire in October 1994
By Gareth McKeown and David Young, Press Association

A FORMER leading loyalist paramilitary who played a key role in the peace process has died.

William 'Plum' Smith died in hospital after a short illness. He was 62.

The former Ulster Volunteer Force and Red Hand Commando paramilitary was imprisoned for 10 years during the Troubles for attempted murder.

During some of the worst years of the conflict he and other senior loyalists, including Gusty Spence and David Ervine, started formulating strategies to move Northern Ireland away from violence.

He was central to the process which brought the historic step of the Combined Loyalist Military Command ceasefire in 1994, chairing the press conference that announced the move.

The loyalist ceasefire came six weeks after a similar move by the IRA.

Smith, from the Shankill Road, later went on to become part of the loyalist political delegation that helped negotiate the landmark Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

He was a former chairman of the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP), which has a close alignment with the UVF.

In 2014 he released his book Inside Man, Loyalists of Long Kesh - The Untold Story, on the twentieth anniversary of the loyalist ceasefire. The book argues that thanks to politicisation and education a group of prominent loyalists prisoners came to support negotiation with their republican counterparts, leading to the eventual peace process.

Former PUP leader Brian Ervine described Smith as a "very intelligent" man.

"I'm just very, very sorry," he said.

"I found him a very decent human being, and I found him a very forward-thinking human being and he will be a loss, certainly to the Progressive Unionist Party and the loyalist community.

"He was a clear thinker, he was left-of-centre politically, he had a heart for ordinary people, for working-class people, he tried to provide a voice, a voice which had been neglected."

Mr Ervine told Radio Ulster: "He was also happy enough to stretch over the fence and do business with traditional enemies."

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