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DUP 'held series of meetings with loyalists' to discuss EU exit specifics

DUP leader Arlene Foster
DUP leader Arlene Foster
Jackie McDonald
Ralph Hewitt

By Ralph Hewitt

DUP leader Arlene Foster met with a number of prominent loyalists during a series of meetings last week over Brexit, it has been alleged.

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The revelation came after loyalist paramilitaries threatened protests if Northern Ireland's status in the UK is "diluted" after the UK leaves the EU. The warning led to calls for greater engagement with the loyalist community.

In a series of tweets yesterday, journalist Brian Rowan alleged that Mrs Foster, along with other senior DUP colleagues, met with Jimmy Birch, Jackie McDonald and Matt Kincaid, who have previously been named as senior UDA figures.

At a separate meeting, organised through the auspices of the Action for Community Transformation project, Mr Rowan stated that alleged senior UVF members Winston Irvine and Harry Stockman were present.

The former BBC NI security editor said it was his view that it was important that loyalists are "involved/included in legacy and other dialogues, including Brexit". A loyalist source told the journalist: "Whatever is going to happen, they [the DUP] need to answer the questions before they are asked. Is it a good deal? Is it a bad deal? Is it the only deal?"

The source continued: "If Sinn Fein thinks it's all right [any Brexit deal] loyalists will think it's all wrong."

Mr Rowan also tweeted that he was told that loyalists are exploring ways for their concerns to be heard outside Northern Ireland and that a "mechanism/means" to achieve this is currently being explored.

According to the Sunday Times, sources within the UVF have said it is planning to organise demonstrations and protests using proxy groups if the government attempts a Brexit compromise by aligning Northern Ireland and the Republic in any customs arrangement.

A DUP spokesperson said: "The Party engages with a range of stakeholders about a range of matters on an ongoing basis in the interests of moving Northern Ireland forward."

Meanwhile, the UDA in west Belfast were said to be adopting a "wait and see" approach until the specifics of any Brexit deal are announced.

In response, the Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie had said he believes that the loyalist community has not been engaged with enough on Brexit issues.

Commenting on the alleged meetings between the loyalist representatives and the DUP, loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson said there was "nothing controversial" about the largest unionist party engaging with a "significant section" of the unionist and loyalist community.

"I don't think there's anything overly significant about that; however, I do think the DUP should be listening to the voices of the grassroots in the unionist and loyalist community," he added. "I do think in the past number of days we have certainly seen a change from the DUP's position last week where they were ultimately almost signing up for an economic united Ireland. I wasn't present at any of these meetings. However, I think that engagement within all shades of unionism is always a positive thing."

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