HUNDREDS of people lined Belfast’s Shankill Road as a final tribute to veteran politician Hugh Smyth.
The former Lord Mayor of Belfast passed away on Monday (May 12) at the age of 73. He had served the Shankill area for 41 years on Belfast City Council.
His coffin, flanked by a Guard of Honour from the Orange Order, was carried down the Shankill Road. Hundreds of mourners joined the cortege as it made it way to St. Anne’s Cathedral for a Celebration of Mr. Smyth’s life.
Until his retirement in January, Alderman Smyth had been the longest-serving member of the Council having served the city’s Court Ward for 41 years.
The veteran loyalist politician was a former leader of the Progressive Unionist Party and is credited with having made an important contribution to the Northern Ireland Peace Process.
The Shankill man had been spurred to get involved in politics by a burning desire to work for his community at a time when working-class representatives would often find City Hall far from a welcoming place.
Mr. Smyth, who was affectionately known as ‘Shughie’ to friends and colleagues, recalled how when he was first elected many other members of the council were “upper class”. He added: “They deliberately planned meetings to start at 11 a.m. or 2 p.m. to prevent working-class people from being able to attend.”
Added to these difficulties was the fact that councillors at that time received no payment for their services and were not entitled to any expenses. Over the years he was to witness the transformation of the council into a body which was truly representative of the city’s entire population.
He was Deputy Lord Mayor in 1983 and 1993 before serving as Lord Mayor from 1994 to 1995.
Mr. Smyth was appointed O.B.E. in 1995 for services to the community.
A founder member of the Progressive Unionist Party, he was leader until 2002 before being succeeded by David Ervine. The current PUP leader, Billy Hutchinson, paid tribute to Mr. Smyth, describing him as “a giant of working-class loyalism who was loved by the people of the Shankill”.
Mr. Hutchinson added: “Hugh made a monumental contribution to the political process in Northern Ireland over the course of the last 40 years. He was a staunch and proud unionist and a pioneer of working-class politics.
“He was fundamental to bringing the loyalist community to the negotiating table and played a central role in strengthening Northern Ireland’s position within the United Kingdom.”
First Minister Peter Robinson also paid tribute. He said: “All those who worked with Hugh will know that his death represents the loss of a strong-willed and independently-minded representative who served the people of Belfast, and particularly the Shankill, for many years.”
Mr. Smyth, who passed away on Monday (May 12) following a long illness, is survived by his wife Ellen.
To view the death notice on Passedaway.com click here.
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