TRIBUTES have been paid to former Red Hand Commando paramilitary member PUP chairman William ‘Plum’ Smith who died this morning.
He had been battling the ravages of cancer over a number of years but he recently took ill died after a short illness.
‘Plum’ was a key member of the loyalist group which got the UVF, UFF and RHC to call a ceasefire in October 1994.
Smith spent ten years in prison for his role in the shooting of a Catholic in 1972.
Following his released from prison, ‘Plum’ became a member of the PUP.
He also set up the loyalist group Justice For All campaigning for those affected by injustice.
And in later years ‘Plum’ formed the group Alternatives to help ex-loyalist paramilitary prisoners resettle in the community.
In 1994, 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 served as the chairman of the PUP and was part of the party’s negotiating team around the Good Friday Agreement.
The former PUP leader Brian Ervine told BBC Radio Ulster’s Good Morning Ulster programme: “It’s very, very sad that Plum has passed on.
“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 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.
“He was also happy enough to stretch over the fence and do business with traditional enemies.”
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness tweeted: “Sorry to hear that William(Plum)Smith has died.
“I valued his commitment & contribution to Peace. My sympathy to his wife & family.”
North Belfast UPRG wrote on Facebook: “The officers and members of North Belfast UPRG would like to express our sincere condolences to the family,friends and comrades of William “Plum” Smith.
“A former LPOW who dedicated his life for the betterment of our people. RIP.”