As part of LINC Resource Centre’s commitment to preserving the legacy of their former Director, Billy Mitchell (1940-2006), I was asked to give an interview on my personal and professional connections with Billy. It as a privilege to put my own views about Billy on record for posterity but it also reminded me of the many interviews I conducted with him while he was alive. Here is a short extract from an interview I did with him on 27 September 2005, which covered a wide range of themes. The following extract has considerable purchase on events on the ground as they currently stand, though I wasn’t convinced then – and I’m not convinced now – that they have to remain that way.
Aaron Edwards (AE) The concept of the People’s Army – you said this term came later – is the UVF engaged in revisionism like the Provos to re-write history – you have said to Peter Taylor that conditions were created that meant people wanted to join the UVF, you have talked about the elitism – how representative of the community was the UVF then, how much is it representative of the community now?
Billy Mitchell (BM) It depends on what you mean by representative of the people. In terms of people with a UVF background… they are no more electable now than they were then – then you had two councillors [Hugh] Smyth and [Ernie] Burton – today we have two councillors – OK there was the highpoint around the ceasefires when we had two MLAs.
AE But are they of the community they wish to represent? Defend?
BM The bulk of the UVF are working class Protestants, from working class areas. The ones that I meet on a regular basis – they come from the same housing estates, went to the same schools, as me, similar hopes and aspirations, they come from the community, not parachuted in. Probably for [every one] individual that joins the UVF there are twenty that don’t – but who do they turn to to get a problem solved? Many people will say we don’t like the paramilitaries but we need them – e.g. when there is interface violence or conflict people turn to the UVF or UDA – in the Whiterock it was marshalled for years by the UVF – the DUP are criticised for being in the Parades Forum with paramilitaries although it represents the people of west and north Belfast, of which the UVF and UDA are a part. Most people would accept that if you are going to have a solution the organisations need to be part of it.