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Brexit: Unionists condemn threat from loyalist paramilitaries to implement violence

Jamie Bryson and Robert Girvan
Jamie Bryson and Robert Girvan

By Mark McConville

Unionists have said there is "no place for violence in our society" after loyalist paramilitaries threatened protests if Northern Ireland's status in the UK is "diluted" after Brexit.

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Sources within the UVF said it is planning to organise demonstrations and protests using proxies if Boris Johnson's government attempts a Brexit compromise by aligning Northern Ireland and the Republic in any customs arrangement.

The UDA in west Belfast is adopting a "wait and see" approach until the specifics of any Brexit deal are announced, according to the Sunday Times.

However, sources close to the group's thinking say it's making contingency plans.

DUP Lagan Valley MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said that "all our decisions should be based on the ballot box, not the threat of violence".

"The United Kingdom is a democracy," he added.

"Threats from loyalists or republicans who would use the bomb or bullet are not a basis for a country to make any decisions. There is no place for violence in this society.

"As the party standing up for Northern Ireland, we will not agree to arrangements which undermine the Union. We will leave the European Union as one nation."

UUP MLA Doug Beattie dismissed the claims as rhetoric that "must be dialled down" but warned we could "accidentally" fall back into violence.

Mr Beattie said that "nobody should be talking about bombs going off anywhere".

"We've been through that before. It created nothing but misery, children without parents, parent who lost children, teenagers with lost futures and years of bitterness," he added.

"I don't think that loyalist paramilitaries are intending to raise up violence at all. I do not think that the loyalist community want violence.

"I think there is a concern that loyalists have been left outside the tent in many of these really important issues.

"We saw it with legacy and we're seeing it now with Brexit and that has raised huge frustrations. I guess those frustrations are resulting in language which nobody should be using.

"We could end up as a part of the UK accidentally falling into violence once more because of the language people are using and I think politicians are equally to blame."

He added: "There is frustration in the loyalist community and I do believe they have not been engaged enough in these issues that affect them so much."

Negotiations are currently ongoing between London, Dublin and Brussels to avoid the UK crashing out of the EU on October 31.

A new deal may involve goods entering Northern Ireland facing customs and regulatory checks on the Irish Sea, but being able to move freely across the border. If agreed, this plan would let UK and EU officials collect tariffs at ports in Northern Ireland on behalf of Brussels.

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said yesterday the proposed new solution cannot work because Northern Ireland must remain fully in the customs union.

Reports have suggested the plan would anger many loyalists who would view the arrangement as a form of economic alignment with Dublin and a possible precursor to a united Ireland.

A UDA figure said on Saturday: "Boris Johnson has shafted the loyalist people of Northern Ireland. The DUP are not the only people Boris should be consulting."

Prominent loyalist Robert Girvan said: "I can't see loyalism of any strand just walking into a situation where there is any type of economic union with the Irish Republic. I was talking to someone who said we'll see how hard the border is if bombs start going off in Limerick."

He said groups such as the UVF had been formed to protect Northern Ireland's place in the union. "If that place is threatened, the organisations will step up to the mark," he said.

Loyalists suspected the Irish government viewed Brexit as an opportunity to create a united Ireland through a back door, he said.

He accused Taoiseach Leo Varadkar of showing contempt and disregard to the community and said he believed discussions were taking place between the UVF and the UDA on what action the groups should take.

The PSNI and Garda have said they believe there is a significant risk of loyalist groups becoming involved in widespread civil disorder and protests over Brexit.

Loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson said: "If Northern Ireland is aligned in any way to the Republic, I think the flag protests of 2013 will look like a day at the beach. I would advocate peaceful protest and civil disobedience as no one wants to see violence, but I think when you have mass numbers of people on the streets, violence will occur.

"I cannot speak on behalf of the UVF but my view is that its position on this matter is clear."

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