On Wednesday morning, The Loyalist Communities Council (LCC) said it was temporarily withdrawing support for the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) due to concerns around the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The LCC, which includes representatives of loyalist paramilitaries, including the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), and the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), responsible for nearly 1000 known murders between them, has said the agreement threatens the statelet’s place within the UK.
The LCC was set up in 2015 by David Campbell, a former chairman of the Ulster Unionist Party, and Jonathan Powell, chief of staff to former Prime Minister Tony Blair, as a means to help bring an end to loyalist paramilitarism.
Campbell said the group’s leadership is “determined that unionist opposition to the protocol should be peaceful and democratic”. How this fits with the group’s open support for loyalist paramilitaries, and their withdrawal from the GFA, remains unclear.
The letter continued, “the only time I can remember such unanimity of opposition was following the imposition of the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985.” The 1985 agreement was met with fierce opposition in the streets, and from loyalist politicians opposed to the Agreement.
Appearing on the BBC’s Newsnight programme, Campbell said Boris Johnson had “reneged on the clear promises he made to the people of NI that there would be unfettered access [to Great Britain].” The NI Protocol sees the 6 counties remain in the EU single market for goods, to ensure there is no Border within the island of Ireland.
The letter comes less than a month after inspection staff at Irish ports were temporarily withdrawn from duties in response to intimidation from the loyalist community.
As with all things Northern Ireland, the role of paramilitary groups in constitutional politics, is fraught. Politicians have been quick to reassure the public that is merely a publicity stunt, trying to garner political attention. Indeed, it is not the first time paramilitary groups have withdrawn support for the Agreement. However, it is a worrying shift, as the region appears to be growing more unstable.
In response to the letter, Alliance Party deputy leader Stephen Farry said Boris Johnson faced a decision over whether he would “give more oxygen to the normalisation of treating illegal organisations like any other stakeholder in society”.
DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson reported that “People have lost confidence [in the GFA] because they believe that no one is listening to the concerns of unionists.”
However, Donaldson went on to advocate “that there should be the threat of violence or anything like it for any reason, there can be no justification for anyone doing that.”
Regardless of individual views on where the GFA went right and where it undoubtedly went wrong, the Agreement has had a profound effect on the North of Ireland and the value of peace cannot be underestimated.
The British Government, cannot kowtow to loyalist paramilitaries, as the DUP have been seen to do for decades, however, the move from the LCC cannot be ignored and more needs to be done to ensure peace is guaranteed in the North.
Irish Unity is looming, and is over a century overdue, but a return to the sectarian violence of the 1970s must be avoided. This week’s letter from the LCC, marks yet another avoidable crisis being impinged on the Irish people at the hands of Westminster’s incompetence.