‘We are a party that works at the grassroots’

Jack Shaw, Ken Wilkinson and Darren Logan. INNT 06-037-FP
Jack Shaw, Ken Wilkinson and Darren Logan. INNT 06-037-FP

The Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) has confirmed its Newtownabbey candidates for this years’s local government election.

The party’s prisons spokesperson, Ken Wilkinson, will attempt to win a seat in the Macedon District Electoral Area (DEA), while New Mossley community worker Jack Shaw and Monkstown man Darren Logan will seek election in the Threemilewater DEA (currently University). Scott McDowell will be the party’s candidate in Ballyclare.

Mr Shaw, Mr Logan and Mr Wilkinson spoke to the Times this week about their political aspirations, with all three saying that they want to be “a strong voice for working class unionists and loyalists.”

They believe they can win seats in each of the DEAs, but know that voter apathy, traditionally low turnouts in loyalist areas on election day and a lack of transfers from other candidates could cost them.

Urging people to register to vote, Mr Wilkinson said: “We need a strong voice within loyalism and we can be that voice. But we need people to vote. If they have no vote, they have no voice. If working class loyalists step up to the mark then we will win these seats.

“We have been a voice for them over the years, and no matter the outcome we will still be a voice for them.”

Mr Shaw added: “People should look back and reflect on what happened at the City Hall (removal of the Union flag). One of the problems was the lack of a voice against what was happening and that was due to complacency within loyalism and unionism. If people don’t vote then they don’t have a voice and they shouldn’t be out on the streets protesting.”

Mr Shaw, who is due to step down from his role as chairman of New Mossley Community Group ahead of the election, continued: “I can see myself getting elected, but that’s up to the people out there. But if not, then I’m still going to go out and work hard for the people as I have done for the past 15 or 16 years.”

Mr Wilkinson, who lives in Antrim and sits on the local Policing and Community Safety Partnership, says that he knows the Macedon DEA well, having worked in Rathcoole for over 15 years, and has good contacts in the area.

He stressed that he and his party colleagues are committed to tackling key problems such as drugs, suicide and anti-social behaviour.

“What we’re about and what I’m about is working for the community. We are a party that deals with working class issues and works at the grassroots,” he said.

Mr Logan, a 43-year-old trade unionist, hopes to take the skills he’s learnt in the trade union movement into local politics.

“We need to engage with the various statutory bodies and challenge them for the betterment of our community,” he said. “We will ask them the most pertinent questions and get answers for the people that we represent.”

The former Ballyclare High man believes that the party has a realistic chance of taking at least one seat in Threemilewater come May.

The three men don’t try to deny the party’s connections with the UVF, but realise that some find the link unpalatable.

They stressed that the PUP is being “proactive in trying to take these people down a different road” and urged the public to look at the contributions made by “ex-volunteers” such as Billy Mitchell and David Ervine.

“If we hadn’t stepped up to the line and engaged with other people there wouldn’t have been a peace process or a political process,” Mr Wilkinson continued. “We have a lot of good young people coming through the PUP who have no connection with the UVF whatsoever. We are grassroots unionism and loyalism - working class people who care about what happens in our community.”

Firing a warning at the two main unionist parties, he added: “If the DUP and the UUP think they are the voice of working class loyalism then they are very much mistaken.”