Funeral of leading loyalist William 'Plum' Smith held in Belfast

Winston Irvine carries the coffin at William 'Plum' Smith's funeral
Brendan Hughes

THE funeral was held in Belfast yesterday of former loyalist paramilitary and Progressive Unionist Party chairman William 'Plum' Smith.

Mourners gathered at St Matthew's Church of Ireland on the Woodvale Road for the 11.30am service and afterwards at Roselawn Cemetery.

The funeral was led by Rev Rachel Creighton and a tribute was given by Mr Smith's niece Mandy McDermott during the service.

PUP leader Billy Hutchinson, fellow party member Winston Irvine and Ukip's David McNarry were among those in attendance.

Mr Smith died in hospital on Wednesday after a short illness at the age of 62.

The former UVF and Red Hand Commando paramilitary spent 10 years in prison for his role in the shooting of a Catholic in 1972.

After being released from prison he became a member of the PUP.

He played a central role in the 1994 ceasefire of loyalist paramilitary groups, which came six weeks after the IRA announced its own ceasefire.

Mr Smith chaired a press conference in which a statement on behalf of the Combined Loyalist Military Command was read out by Gusty Spence, a founding member of the UVF.

He later became chairman of the PUP and was part of the party's negotiating team around the Good Friday Agreement.

Following his death earlier this week, Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness was among those to express his sympathies.

The deputy first minister said on Twitter: "Sorry to hear that William (Plum) Smith has died. I valued his commitment and contribution to peace. My sympathy to his wife and family."

Former PUP leader Brian Ervine told the BBC: "Plum was in the forefront of negotiating and bringing loyalist paramilitaries into the peace process and politicising the UVF and Red Hand Commando.

"He was a very intelligent fellow, he educated himself in Long Kesh.

"He also took Irish lessons there as well, he called the Irish language his own language.

"I'm just very, very sorry, I found him a very decent human being, and I found him a very forward thinking...

"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.

"He was also happy enough to stretch over the fence and do business with traditional enemies."

Following the service Belfast PUP councillor Julie-Anne Corr described it on Facebook as a "beautiful and fitting send-off".

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