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Propaganda about the Protocol 'rife' among Loyalist communities

Eileen Weir, a veteran community worker, gave evidence to the NI Affairs Committee in the UK Parliament.

elain Elaine Weir of the Shankill Women’s Centre. Source: PA Images

COMMUNITY PROPGANDA IS “rife” around the Northern Ireland Protocol, a Belfast community worker has warned.

Eileen Weir, a veteran community worker at the heart of the loyalist Shankill area of Belfast, said the post-Brexit mechanism “needs (to be) fixed” but emphasised that many are “only hearing the negative”.

Weir was among six women who gave evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee in the UK Parliament. 

Unionist parties have expressed their opposition to the Protocol over checks on goods arriving into Northern Ireland from Great Britain, slamming the situation as a border down the Irish Sea.

Demonstrations have been taking place across Northern Ireland against the Protocol and legal challenges have also been taken.

As part of the committee’s NI Protocol Inquiry, MPs in May heard from the Loyalist Communities Council (LCC), that the Protocol could lead to violence.

brexit Graffiti in Belfast. Source: PA Images

Weir said of all those she speaks to, none say that the LCC spoke on their behalf, and emphasised there are many different points of view among loyalists.

She spoke of concern that “community propaganda is rife”.

The Protocol needs (to be) fixed, it’s not good in parts of it but we’re only hearing the negative and we’re not hearing the positive and our communities need to have some positive language coming out, we can’t keep being doom and gloom, we need to have that positive message that comes along with it – and continue working on the bits that aren’t working.

“I’m not saying forget about it, I’m saying fix it but just don’t dwell on the hardship of it, let’s dwell on some of the good parts of it because a lot of businesses are thriving here within Northern Ireland because people can’t get their supplies in from Great Britain.”

belfast-city-hall-flag-debate A flag dispute erupted on to the streets in 2012. Source: PA Images

Weir said fear in the loyalist community started in 2012 when Belfast City Council voted to fly the Union flag only on statutory days instead of all year round, and an unfounded fear around Irish language legislation for some that their Britishness is being taken away from them.

“We need to be smart … not giving another community the feeling they they’re the winners and the other ones are the losers, we need to come away from that type of politics,” she said.

Kate Clifford, director of the Rural Community Network, said there was a “perfect storm” – coming out of the coronavirus pandemic – with paramilitarism on the rise, the threat of a return to violence, along with patriarchy, poverty, political instability, posturing, parades and propaganda.

“We have political posturing. I think we have an imbalance in Northern Ireland in terms of our political agendas at present and I think there is a lot of posturing about the whole talk of a united Ireland at the moment which is unhelpful in the current circumstances where there is already instability and insecurity,” she said.

There is a talk about winners and losers. I think there is very, very difficult dialogue coming from our political classes, when we have a Secretary of State who stands up and says he is willing to break international law and we as peacemakers are trying to promote lawfulness within communities for whom lawlessness has been a rule of thumb. I think it is really unhelpful and people are afraid to stand up and say that’s not how it is for me or that’s not how it is for our community.

Elaine Crory, from the Women’s Resource and Development Centre, added: “People are not saying to us that they oppose the Protocol, what they are saying at worst is that they don’t understand the Protocol.

“We’re not implying in any way these these people are lacking in intelligence … it (Protocol) is being propagandised, people are claiming it is all kinds of things and it is in fact not.

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There were violent scenes earlier this year at the Lanark Way peace line gate which were blamed on anger at the Protocol as well as a lack of prosecutions over alleged breaches of social distancing at the funeral of republican Bobby Storey.

Crory said the scenes of unrest were “not organic”.

“It was whipped up and designed and it was largely directed by people we refer to as paramilitaries,” she said.

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