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Loyalists tell MPs there is 'seething anger' at Boris Johnson over broken Protocol promise

The Loyalist Communities Council chair criticised the post-Brexit trade confusion on “a mischievous Irish desire to reignite strident nationalism”.

MEMBERS OF THE Loyalist Communities Council, which represents three loyalist paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland, have appeared before a Westminster committee this morning to explain loyalists issues with the Northern Ireland Protocol. 

The members told the committee that the Protocol is “a fundamental breach of democracy”, that there was a “seething anger” at Boris Johnson’s broken promise of unfettered GB-to-NI access, and that that violence might be used as a “last resort”.

Northern Ireland Affairs Committee heard evidence from members of the Loyalist Communities Council David Campbell (chairman), Joel Keys, Councillor Russell Watton, and Jim Wilson.

David Campbell David Campbell. Source: Westminster committee

Campbell told the Committee: “I do get the sense that the Irish Government misrepresented the potential impact of an Irish Sea border on the unionist community in Northern Ireland.

I really appeal to them to join the effort to rectify this Protocol. It may require [Ireland's Minister for Foreign Affairs] Simon Coveney to fall on his sword, but is the Peace Process not more important to the Northern Ireland Protocol?

He said that reports from Michel Barnier’s recently published book about Brexit negotiations said customs checks at EU ports on goods coming from Ireland had been suggested at one stage – meaning Ireland would join a UK customs union. “That’s surely that’s the option that has to be explored,” Campbell said.

He said that “political goodwill” was needed, rather than what he called an EU desire to punish Britain, and “a mischievous Irish desire to reignite strident nationalism”.

Campbell claimed that there had been good relations with the Irish Government up until the latter part of Brexit negotiations, whereafter he said that “Dublin has closed down.”

The NI Affairs Committee chair Simon Hoare pointed out that Ireland was negotiating through the EU on Brexit issues, and couldn’t negotiation bilaterally. 

When asked if there was any good in the Northern Irish Protocol, he added, it was “vastly outweighed” by the negative consequences for the loyalist community.

Russell Watton Cllr Russell Watton. Source: Westminster committee

Councillor Russell Watton said that the Protocol, for many loyalists, was “the last straw”.

Boris Johnson said ‘unfettered’, and people took him at his word. And that’s another one of the reasons why there is an absolutely seething anger [in the loyalist community]. 

“I’d rather they had a protest than a riot. I don’t want any young man to go to prison, I don’t want any young man to get a record.”

Jim Wilson said that he wants peace as much as any other person: “No one fought harder for peace than I did… I fought against and stopped the conflict because I wanted a better way of living for my kids.”

Jim Wilson Jim Wilson. Source: Westminster committee

The Good Friday Agreement to me was a pathway to peace and reconciliation, and it’s been anything but that. 
If you look at where we are now, we’re being left as a part of the UK inside an economic EU, not being able to deal with anything, because the Government has given away that because it was easier.

He said that it was now easier for a united Ireland to happen, and that a vote for a united Ireland would be seen as “easier” because of the economic union caused by Brexit.

“You can’t have both, you can’t have the Protocol and the Good Friday Agreement.”

Joel Keys was asked multiple questions about his previous comments about violence being necessary in certain situations. 

Keys said that he stands over those comments, saying that violence was necessary in instances where regimes oppress their citizens, and mentioned North Korea.

“You know there are certainly certain circumstances where violence is the only tool you have left.

For example, I don’t think the people living under Kim Jong Un’s sort of dictatorship is going to get anywhere with peaceful protests anytime soon.

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Keys Joel Keys. Source: Westminster Parliament

“I’m no fan of violence, I think that it has to be an absolute last resort. But it worries me that we could potentially reach a point in this country, or in any country, where the people feel that they do have to defend themselves.”

“You kind of have to have that willingness to back up what you say and back up what you believe in, and fight for what you believe in,” he said, and referenced citizens in the United States’ right to defend itself.

He added: “I want to emphasise I don’t think we’re anywhere near that point at the minute. I think that the political process is one that we all have to use and take advantage of.”

Keys said that he was arrested during a recent demonstration at Sandy Row in south Belfast, despite the fact that he was there “trying to dissuade a 13-year-old and his brother (14) from engaging in the violence”.

Violence is an absolute last resort, and up to that point we should be doing everything we can to stop our young people from potentially ruining their lives.
They don’t know the detail of the Protocol, but they know that something is wrong.

He said that there was interest in the new DUP leadership, and that this could be someone that could offer hope and direction to unionists and loyalists.

SDLP MP Claire Hanna said before her questioning that she disagreed with the Westminster committee meeting with a group that represents paramilitary groups.

“The un-detonated tactic of violence is a problem for our political structures, people who believe it’s fine to use, but not right now.”

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