Loyalist Community Council warns: Don't snub us over legacy issues panel
Loyalists must be included on any body set up by Stormont to deal with legacy issues, it has been warned.
Chairman of the Loyalist Community Council (LCC) David Campbell was speaking over a year on from the foundation of the group, which brings together representatives of terror organisations the UVF, UDA and Red Hand Commando.
Loyalists have yet to be invited to participate in talks to deal with the legacy of the Troubles proposed in Westminster legislation earlier this year.
Mr Campbell said the exclusion of loyalists from a Stormont body set up to examine flags, culture and identity had caused anger.
"I wouldn't like to think a panel on legacy issues would not have a loyalist on it," he said.
"My own opinion is we are past that point - it is dangerous for society to delve too deeply into what was a murky war.
"Do Sinn Fein and the IRA really want to know how deeply penetrated they were? It could reopen a swathe of violence.
"I, like many unionists, felt the Good Friday Agreement drew a line on the past. Government needs to help victims and survivors, but we have to move on, and, frankly, some of us will never get full truth and justice."
Mr Campbell said there was deep unease within loyalist communities about funding. He claimed that for every £5 invested in republican groups, there was just 75p invested in loyalist groups.
He also hit out at what he termed the "vilification" of UDA boss Dee Stitt and the Charter NI organisation he works for.
"He lives and works in the community he is trying to help, he answers to a board that represents the local churches and individuals," he said.
"I know from my own funding applications I have made they stringently abide by employment laws, which are pretty rigorous."
He said Charter NI had been doing excellent work in east Belfast and pointed out its board included clergy, retired civil servants and businessmen, and whoever ran the organisation was up to them.
"I would ask people to look at the work Charter has done over the last 15 years," he added.
Mr Campbell said in the year since the LCC was set up representatives from the UVF, UDA and Red Hand Commando had been coming together for monthly meetings and were working constructively.
One of its first acts was a joint declaration denouncing criminality and expressing support for an initiative aimed at re-engaging the paramilitary groups with the peace process.
Its launch in east Belfast in October 2015 was attended by Tony Blair's ex-chief of staff Jonathan Powell.
Earlier this year the group met Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Justin Welby at Lambeth Palace in London.
The group also unveiled a new Battle of the Somme centenary flag earlier this year, along with protocols on flying flags, which included avoiding locations where they could cause controversy and ensuring they remained in good condition.
One of the group's main concerns is the continued under achievement of the young Protestant working class, an issue affecting as many as 5,000 families in Belfast.
It is currently planning to take a group of young people to Tanzania to work in a Christian orphanage.
Mr Campbell expressed regret that the south east Antrim UDA, which has been expelled from the main organisation, is still involved in a dispute in Carrickfergus, adding he hoped it will join their process.