Northern Ireland

Billy Hutchinson says PUP should be included in talks

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Media captionBilly Hutchinson: "A loyalist voice is very important"

Progressive Unionist Party leader Billy Hutchinson has said talks to resolve the political deadlock in Northern Ireland should involve his party.

He was speaking at the PUP's annual conference in Antrim, which also celebrated 20 years since the loyalist ceasefire.

The inter-party talks, convened by the Secretary of State Theresa Villiers, are due to begin next Thursday.

"A loyalist voice is very, very important," Mr Hutchinson said.

"My past experience in terms of standing on lawns whenever helicopters were coming in with taoiseachs and prime ministers and all the rest of it, is that isn't helpful.

"We need to have a value and I think that people have to actually recognise that 20 years on we would never have got the talks or have the Good Friday Agreement [without loyalists].

"The only reason we did was because we had all the protagonists at the table."

'Circus act for the media'

On Friday, First Minister Peter Robinson said he would not attend the opening of next week's talks aimed at breaking the deadlock at Stormont.

Mr Robinson, who leads the Democratic Unionist Party, called the planned opening of the talks "a showpiece" and "a circus act for the media".

However, he said when the "real work" began the DUP would be there.

The secretary of state announced a fresh round of inter-party talks last month, just days after Mr Robinson had described the structures of devolved government in Northern Ireland as "no longer fit for purpose".

Writing in the Belfast Telegraph on 9 September, Mr Robinson said the weight of the issues to be resolved at Stormont was so great that it "must be tackled in a St Andrews 2 setting, with government involvement".

The 2006 St Andrews Agreement paved the way for the return of devolution the following year.

Sinn Féin, the second largest party in Northern Ireland's power-sharing coalition, had also called for fresh talks, and urged the British, Irish and US governments to get involved.

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