THE Billy Hutchinson-led Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) is launching an Association branch in Banbridge with a view to fighting next year’s elections for the so-called ‘super councils’.

A local spokesman said the PUP’s aim was to “tap into the disillusioned unionist voter who sees the main pro-union parties as being remote from grass roots, hiding themselves in the ivory tower of Stormont”.

He added, “There is definitely a gap in the market in loyalist politics, especially in constituencies like Upper Bann and Newry-Armagh.

“We have studied the local scenario, and we should have a real chance in the so-called ABC (Armagh, Banbridge, Craigavon) council. That will be our first test in the area, and we will assess our results before making the next move. A main platform is the number of young people working for us, and that will have a main impact on our future.”

The spokesperson conceded that the Party had taken a hit in the mood of Northern Ireland, post the Belfast Agreement, adding, “We have to bear part of the responsibility for that. Our organisation has been too Belfast centred, but now we are organising in around 20 centres in the province, and the four in Upper Bann and Newry-Armagh are the latest.”

The PUP has two Belfast councillors - John Kyle in Pottinger and Hugh Smith in the Court ward.

The launch night will be at Carleton Street Orange Hall, Portadown on Wednesday, April 17, at 7.30pm and Mr Hutchinson, along with other party officers including Johnny Harvey, will be there to see the beginning of the new venture.

PUP leader Billy Hutchinson said, “The time has come to break the DUP-Sinn Fein, two-party stranglehold on Northern Ireland politics and give working class loyalists a voice.

“DUP are now a middle-class party and their inaction in the flags protest shows they have little empathy with grass roots unionism. We are a small party, but the lack of democracy in the two-party state has created a vacuum which we are prepared to fill.”

The DUP refused to comment on the matter.

The PUP are also opening branches in Portadown, Lurgan and Armagh.

The Carleton Street launch will cover all four branches, and the meeting will centre on issues like parading, culture, what the PUP stands for, the youth ethos, and the Armed Forces Covenant.

The local chairman is Darren Crowe, and the secretary is Graeme Stevenson.