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A SON OF A GUN; Ex-UVF gunman Billy McCaughey killed for loyalism .. but his only son Kenneth's opted for ballot box over bullet.

Byline: LINDSAY FERGUS

A FORMER RUC officer turned loyalist killer has few regrets about his horrific past.

Billy McCaughey, a one time Special Branch man with a promising career, turned his back on it all to join the UVF.

The Co Antrim man maintains that murder, kidnap and a string of other sectarian crimes he committed were carried out in the name of loyalism.

But 22 years after Billy started a 16-year prison sentence for murder, his son has chosen another path in a bid to further the loyalist cause.

In May, Progressive Unionist Party member Kenneth McCaughey, 22, will contest the Local Government elections in his hometown of Ballymena.

And his father, who kidnapped Fr Hugh Murphy, murdered Ahoghill pharmacist William Strathearn and bombed a string of Catholic bars, is hoping that his son will not be judged by his murky past.

But Billy does not regard his own choice as a mistake.

He explained: "People should judge Kenneth on his own merits and the statements he makes.

"He is a quiet and sincere person who keeps his word and it is not right to label him as Billy McCaughey's son.

"Kenneth saw how much of my life was taken up and possibly wasted in prison and he realises that if there is another way, it has to be found.

"As an innocent victim of the conflict Kenneth wishes to work politically to take the gun out of unionist politics and to do what he can to ensure that his generation of traditional unionists do not have to spend years in prison cells as a consequence of their defence of Ulster.

"In that objective he must surely have the support of all right-minded people in both the unionist and nationalist communities."

And Billy stressed that his son was not standing in the quest for political glory.

He said: "Kenneth is in this as an Ulster loyalist who wants to be loyal to a country he loves dearly.

"He wants to do his best for the community and people of Northern Ireland through politics.

"And as Billy Hutchinson once said 'politics is too important to be left to the politicians'."

Although Kenneth rejects the 'armed struggle', he has been influenced by the cause his father so firmly believes in.

Kenneth said: "I have first hand knowledge of the impact of the Troubles on families who through the activities of others have been innocent victims of the conflict and I am keen to work to ensure that this generation will see democracy and political stability in Ulster."

His father said: "Kenneth is deeply committed to Northern Ireland remaining within in the United Kingdom and in a way he has learned from my past.

"He became involved in politics due to the fact that he had grown up without me because of my imprisonment.

"Kenneth was only seven weeks old when I was sent to the Maze and I have only been free for six years, so we are still getting to know each other."

He continued: "On the whole, he had a desire to identify with me.

"In his early teens he looked up to me for all the wrong reasons. He saw me as a hero.

"That is not what I wanted. Obviously I wanted him to respect me as his father but not the things I was involved in."

The former UVF killer is delighted that his only son opted for political dialogue rather than armed conflict.

He said: "I would say with the father he had and given the area he lived in, he was at some risk from the influence of loyalist paramilitaries.

"I could not rule out that he would follow in my footsteps but I had hoped that would not be the case.

"I would not want to see him going that way.

"I was very happy that he chose to make a contribution to loyalism through politics rather than any other way."

However, Billy added: "I do not regret being involved in physical force loyalism but I do regret the consequences it had on my family.

"Some of the incidents I was involved in, I feel perhaps, should not have happened.

"When the ceasefire was called, loyalist paramilitaries expressed remorse in respect of any innocent people who had suffered as part of that campaign and I would have no difficulty endorsing that."

Kenneth, a computer and business university student, is taking a year out from his studies.

He is currently working for a local business but will be returning to third level education at the start of the new term.

Kenneth joined the PUP two years ago and he is adamant that both nationalists and unionists have responsibilities with regard to the Good Friday Agreement.

He said: "Sinn Fein must demonstrate in a practical and convincing manner that they can rise above their own narrow political constituency.

"They must demonstrate in practical ways that they do adhere to the Agreement which they entered into with our community and that they do support the right of the people of Northern Ireland to national self-determination.

"Unionists must likewise make it clear that they embrace the concept of inclusiveness.

"We must show they we believe that Northern Ireland belongs to all the people and we must strive to make all feel that they belong, regardless of class or religious creed."

Billy, who is also a member of the PUP, is keen to stress that his son has a mind of his own.

He said: "Kenneth makes his own decisions but he did discuss things with me.

"I've always encouraged him to make his own decisions and hopefully he can learn without making too many mistakes.

"I would never want to think for him or to have him believing in certain things just because I believe in them.

"At the end of the day, he has to be his own person."

Kenneth will be standing in the staunch DUP area of Ballymena on May 16.

It will be the first time the PUP will have contested a council election in Ian Paisley's stronghold.

Billy said: "Some people had wanted me to stand but I don't have the ambition to be an elected councillor and by picking someone who has a clean sheet, the political opponents cannot come at the PUP from that angle.

"The PUP really is the only unionist party, apart from sections of the UUP, that is genuinely trying to reach a political accommodation in Northern Ireland.

"Although the politics of the PUP tend to appeal to people in working class urban areas, hopefully Kenneth will attract young people, people who don't normally vote and people who know me.

"This is the home of the DUP but at least it will give us an indication of the support that we have in this area for future elections and then we will build on that.

"And by just standing Kenneth is forcing certain issues onto the agenda."

Kenneth added: "These elections provide an opportunity for real progress.

"It must not be squandered, especially by the young people who have never known political stability and communal peace in Northern Ireland and whose views I feel qualified to represent."

CAPTION(S):

QUIT: Billy besmirched RUC; NEW PATH: Billy McCaughey, seen above-right, with PUP activist Ken Wilkinson, left, and Billy Hutchinson. He spent 16 years in the Maze; but son Kenneth has chosen the political path
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Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Mar 25, 2001
Words:1236
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