‘Loyalists have positive role to play in our society within the law’, says Jamie Bryson
After he took part in a fierce debate about loyalism and the UVF on the Nolan Show yesterday, Jamie Bryson is questioned by Suzanne Breen
Q: Are you a member of the East Belfast UVF?
A: No, absolutely not. This has been an allegation consistently advanced by people trying to smear me. It is part of an overall agenda to demonise anybody who voices concerns or speaks on behalf of the loyalist community.
It was raised in an excellent discussion on loyalism on the Stephen Nolan Show (yesterday) and I was happy to refute it.
Q: Are you a spokesperson for the East Belfast UVF?
A: No, I am not that either. It is a perception that might have been created but it's totally untrue. I am willing to express the views of ex-combatants and those who have political concerns which I believe are fair and legitimate. But I am not a spokesperson for any illegal organisation.
I've done a lot of work with former UDA members and I've represented them in media complaints. Yet nobody has accused me of being an advocate for them.
Q: Do you condemn the actions of the East Belfast UVF?
A: I've been consistent and clear in saying that anyone involved in criminal activity should be dealt with, robustly and fairly, by the PSNI and the criminal justice system.
But we have to be careful not to criminalise and dehumanise a whole section of loyalist ex-combatants.
Q: But the East Belfast UVF is involved in drugs and other criminal activity. What is your response to their actions?
A: I can only look at what the UVF corporately says. I can only judge it by its own words.
The UVF isn't broken up into factions. In its public statements, the UVF has clearly set its face against criminal activity.
If there is evidence of criminal activity by the East Belfast UVF, let it be produced.
I think allegations can be thrown out against people politically in a state-sponsored attempt to create 'good loyalism' and 'bad loyalism'.
As someone with a little bit of an insight into loyalism, I have difficulties with what appears to be a constant attempt to set the East Belfast UVF apart from the overall UVF.
I am not part of the UVF so am not privy to the internal workings of that group, but, from what I do know, it would be my very clear view that there is only one UVF and judging by that organisation's own public statements they are wholly committed to civilianisation.
Q: Should the East Belfast UVF disband?
A: What does that actually mean? People say it means 'going away', well where should loyalists go?
They live within loyalist communities and play an active role within society.
When people say 'go away' do they envisage loyalist ex-combatants being banished to some form of Siberia?
I do not believe that loyalist organisations are actually about structures or group names.
When you break it down, it is a socially cohesive group that has been bound together over decades.
People who went to jail together, who have been friends for years and were involved in an intense conflict together.
Loyalists, including those from a UVF and UDA background, have a positive role to play in our society within the confines of the law.
Where I feel there are legitimate and fair points to be made in defence of anyone in loyalism, I will continue to advance them.