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16 October 2014
BBC NI - Eyewitness

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Billy Mitchell, a former UVF prisoner, is a Programme co-ordinator for LINC, an organisation that promotes community development in north Belfast Image of Billy Mitchell

Billy, did you get involved in paramilitary violence because you were essentially sectarian and you hated Catholics?

No, I got involved with the Ulster Volunteer Force because I believed that my community and my way of life was under threat, and I believed that violent nationalism had to be responded to by violent loyalism. Sectarianism didn't form any part of my upbringing.

But surely you had to be a little bit sectarian to carry a gun and carry out activities against your republican neighbours?

It depends what you mean by being sectarian. If, by sectarian, you mean a hatred for someone because of their religion, that definitely wasn't the case, because I grew up with Catholics and we didn't have a problem. And throughout the whole course of the Troubles, the family - our family relationships with Catholics didn't change. No, this was purely a political thing. It was, I mean, does someone have to be a racist to join the war against Hitler? Did someone have to be a racist to go to the Somme to fight the Germans? You know, this whole blaming, accusing people of sectarianism because they take action and trying to excuse all violence by saying it was sectarian, I don't think that washes, and it's not the reality that I have found.

But did it require hate to be part of the UVF?

Not necessarily. You don't always hate…you can ask this about any conflict. If a job has to be done, it has to be done. It's not about personalising, it's not about hating, it's simply a job has to be done, it has to be done. One thing - I don't think it was hatred - one thing that did happen within the paramilitary circles was the depersonalising the war. You depersonalised the enemy. So Paddy was no longer Patrick so-and-so, he was a Fenian git, he was an enemy agent, he was a Provo tout. And so you do shoot at a target, whereas you may not shoot at a person. If you depersonalise the person, make him a target, then it's easy to shoot at him…at it. Well, I don't even know what it is to hate.

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