Jake O'Kane: The Loyalist Communities Council speaks for a minority, thankfully

Thankfully, Keys is the aberration rather than the norm. I was reminded of this while having my first post-lockdown haircut...

Loyalist Communities Council member Joel Keys told Westminster's Northern Ireland Affairs Committee that violence was, in certain circumstances, 'the only tool you have left' 
Jake O'Kane

THE new UUP leader, Doug Beattie, has said, “If I meet the Loyalist Communities Council (LCC), the first thing I will be asking them is when they will be disbanding and when they will be leaving people alone and getting their foot off the necks of people in Northern Ireland”.

Sadly, the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee didn’t ask that question when they interviewed representatives from the LCC during the week. Instead, they allowed baby-faced Joel Keys to argue that while violence was a “last resort”, he wouldn’t “rule it off the table”.

Keys speaks for a minority of young people here who seem keen to reignite a conflict which ended before they were born. No doubt dreaming of having their faces festooned on gable walls, these misguided individuals spout justifications for violence as redundant today as decades earlier.

While most accepted the need to engage with paramilitaries in the run-up to the Good Friday Agreement, a reason for continued engagement is harder to identify. With loyalist and republican paramilitary groupings identified by the police as engaging in all forms of criminality – from drug dealing and extortion to loan sharking – any pretence of a political justification is long gone.

Thankfully, Keys is the aberration rather than the norm. I was reminded of this while having my first post-lockdown haircut. Chatting with the young hairdresser, I mentioned Edwin Poots winning leadership of the DUP; staring blankly at me, he asked: “Who’s he?”

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As Arlene Foster is shuffled out of office by the DUP with embarrassing haste, I doubt she’ll agree with Poots’s description of her departure as due to politics being "a rough and tumble business". I suspect Foster is feeling it more akin to a punishment beating at this present moment.

Ian Paisley Snr often talked about the DUP being like a family – what he didn’t clarify was it was a dysfunctional family. Talks of a schism in the party after the Poots election are nothing new – the DUP has always contained two camps; those who followed Big Ian Paisley and those who followed wee Peter Robinson.

While Edwin Poots remained a stalwart of the Paisley camp – a fact illustrated by the fact that Ian Jnr played a pivotal role on his election day – Arlene Foster was the progeny of Peter Robinson. His careful management of her political ascent ensured she became the clear favourite to replace him when he stood down as first minister.

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin’s restructuring is beginning to look like a Stalinist purge as they deselected South Down MLA Emma Rogan for the next election. Coming so soon after the very public removal of Foyle MLAs Martina Anderson and Karen Mullan, Sinn Féin MLAs now take their place in the table of endangered species behind polar bears and the rhinoceros.

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THE cause of the horrific scenes coming from Gaza over the past week have two differing narratives. One comes via the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) which states its attacks are focused on diminishing the ability of Hamas to launch missiles into Israel.

On the Palestinian side, the IDF attacks are part of a long line of punitive military and civilian measures taken by Israel to deny them their own nation and self-determination.

At the time of writing, over 200 Palestinians have been killed, half being women and children. This isn’t surprising when you factor in that half of the Palestinian population are children and, unlike in Israel, they have neither bomb shelters nor any route to escape the IDF attacks.

Many trace the present outbreak of hostilities to social media postings last week from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in East Jerusalem. One video showed armed Israeli settlers attacking Palestinian homes. Another documented a confrontation between an Israeli settler named Jacob and Mona al-Kurd, a Palestinian woman who’d discovered him in her garden.

She challenged the settler, saying, “Jacob, you are stealing my house”, to which he replied, “If I don’t steal your home, someone else will steal it, so why are you yelling at me?”

For many, this exchange encapsulated the wholesale displacement of Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah after an Israeli district court last March ordered six Palestinian families – the Al-Kurds included – to vacate their homes in order to make way for settlers. The Palestinian families under threat of eviction have lived in Sheikh Jarrah since arriving as refugees in 1956, having been, at that time, forced from their homes by Israeli settlers.

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