Loyalists tell Westminster committee of community anger over protocol

‘I am not sure if and when violence will be the answer. I am just saying that I wouldn’t rule it off the table’

The Houses of Parliament in London, Britain. File photograph: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

The Houses of Parliament in London, Britain. File photograph: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

 

A member of the Loyalist Communities Council (LCC), which includes representatives of paramilitary groups, has told MPs that he would not rule out violence in response to the Northern Ireland protocol.

Joel Keys told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee that violence should be an “absolute last resort” if the protocol remains in place.

“I am not sure if and when violence will be the answer. I am just saying that I wouldn’t rule it off the table,” he said.

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

“If we do look across the pond at America that very basic right of self-defence is instilled in their constitution. And so when I talk about a point when violence could be necessary that is specifically what I am referring to.”

Under questioning later from committee chairman Simon Hoare, a Conservative MP, Mr Keys suggested that in the case of the protocol, he would “respect the democratic vote” rather than resisting it with violence.

Mr Keys (19) was arrested last month during disturbances in Belfast but was released without charge.

He said he went to the scene to dissuade two boys aged 13 and 14 from taking part in violent action.

LCC chairman David Campbell told the committee that tensions over the protocol were the most dangerous for many years, comparing the mood among loyalists to anger over the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985.

“We definitely could creep over into violence, I describe this as probably the most dangerous situation for many years, but I do hope common sense will prevail,” he said.

Mr Campbell suggested that instead of checking goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland or along the Border, goods moving from Ireland to the rest of the EU should be checked at continental ports.

“This idea that there’s no other solution, that there’s no alternative, frankly doesn’t hold water. There are solutions,” he said.

SDLP MP Claire Hanna, a member of the committee, said the continued existence of paramilitaries was a barrier to reconciliation and an “oppressive force” in many communities.

“For the record I don’t believe that a representative body for paramilitary organisations should be meeting governments or parliamentary committees because I don’t believe that paramilitaries should exist.”

The Loyalist Communities Council is an umbrella group that represents, among others, three outlawed paramilitary groups: the UVF, the UDA and Red Hand Commando.

LCC member Jim Wilson told the committee: “I believe that we’re living in a society now where the greater threat of violence seems to win the day.

“We met the Irish Government over the protocol, on three or four different occasions, with Simon Coveney and others. And they never listened to one word we said.

“We said we don’t want a border on the island of Ireland, but we sure didn’t want a border in the sea.

“I think it’s disgusting disgraceful that we have politics in our own society that are constantly running about and using the threat of violence to attain a political decision.

“The Irish government have done that, politicians in the North have done that. “We live in society where the threat of violence wins the day. “That is a disgusting situation to be living in and for political people to use those threats to win and argument, it’s not the type of society that we should be living in.” - Additional reporting PA