Ken Wilkinson: Ex-UVF man a ‘fearless’ anti-drug and peace process advocate
Prominent loyalist Ken Wilkinson will be remembered as both a key advocate for the peace process and as a “fearless” opponent of drugs and crime.
That is the view from his colleagues as news emerged yesterday morning that the PUP stalwart had died following a long battle with ill-health.
Mr Wilkinson was known as a plain-speaking figure, who had been involved with the party since the 1980s and had acted as a “welfare officer” for loyalist prisoners.
He acknowledged being a UVF member to the News Letter last year.
He denied holding rank in the group or ever having killed anybody.
He was in his early 70s, and had been diagnosed with terminal interstital lung disease in summer of 2019.
He was pessimistic about his chances of survival; speaking to the News Letter last June he voiced doubt that he would last even a few more weeks.
By co-incidence, the News Letter had made enquiries after Mr Wilkinson’s health as recently as Wednesday this week, before it was known how close to the end he was.
His house in Antrim town had been attacked many times over the years; it is believed this was because of the stand he had taken against criminality – especially narcotics – within working-class Protestant communities.
He remained undeterred, and continued speaking out despite a pipe bomb attack in 2010, a car being driven into the house and set alight in 2012, and being sent a bullet and a sympathy card in 2013.
He also confronted masked intruders in 2017 – one of whom stabbed him in the arm.
His determination was partly fuelled by the death of a niece, aged just 21, which he believed was caused by a single hit of the drug ecstasy.
In a wide-ranging interview last year, Mr Wilkinson said at the time of the early loyalist ceasefires in 1994 “we took a lot of flak from certain people in loyalism – they said we were traitors, sell-out merchants”.
He felt under threat at times because of his support for moving away from violence and into politics.
He added: “No matter what anyone says, if it hadn’t have been for the PUP or UPRG, there wouldn’t have been a peace process.”
PUP councillor John Kyle said: “Ken was highly respected certainly within the party and I think within broader loyalism. He had been a pioneer in many ways; he had been involved in the peace process and political process.
“He served his community with enormous enthusiasm and great faithfulness over many years. He was fearless in confronting criminality and drug dealing.”
Brian Lacey, long-serving PUP chairman, said Mr Wilkinson would have been involved in loyalism since the 1970s but came to see bloodshed “was leading us nowhere”.
“As years rolled on he was absolutely an advocate for the peace process, an advocate for the society we needed in Northern Ireland, anti-violence, and all that.
“He’ll be sorely missed.”
Mr Lacey indicated that he fought his illness “to the bitter end”, as was his nature.
A grandfather, Mr Wilkinson is also survived by his widow.
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