Northern Ireland

Loyalist umbrella group backs DUP sea border deal, expert says

A UVF mural on the Newtownards Road in east Belfast
A UVF mural on the Newtownards Road in east Belfast A UVF mural on the Newtownards Road in east Belfast

A loyalist umbrella group has backed a deal between the DUP and British government to restore the Stormont institutions, a leading expert on loyalist paramilitaries has said.

Writing in the Irish News today, Dr Aaron Edwards says the Loyalist Community Council (LCC) has accepted the Safeguarding the Union agreement.

Set up in 2015, the LCC includes representatives of the UVF, UDA and Red Hand Commando but excludes some loyalist paramilitary factions, including the breakaway South East Antrim UDA unit.

To date the umbrella group has made no comment on whether it backs the deal brokered by DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson.

Mr Donaldson was criticised after briefing the LCC last month on the details of the deal.

Some loyalists reacted angrily after Mr Donaldson signed his party up to the deal, which is aimed at addressing unionist concerns over post-Brexit trade barriers.

The DUP walked out of Stormont two years ago over the Northern Ireland Protocol, which puts a trade border down the Irish Sea.

Donaldson insists the deal has eased unionist constitutional and trade concerns while some loyalists and unionists, including TUV leader Jim Allister, have rejected it.

The LCC withdrew support from the Good Friday Agreement in 2021 over the protocol.

Dr Edwards, author of ‘UVF: Behind the Mask’, has said militant loyalists have now agreed to back the deal, which would provide a significant boost to Mr Donaldson.

Dr Aaron Edwards
Dr Aaron Edwards Dr Aaron Edwards

Writing in today’s Irish News, Mr Edwards said: “Although it has not received any media attention, the so-called Loyalist Communities Council is said to have now backed Sir Jeffrey’s deal.

“It is a surprise move, given loyalists are generally divided on the matter.

“This is a welcome development and demonstrates how grassroots unionists are capable of embracing change.

“Whether they can stay the course, however, is a different matter.”

The LCC was contacted but did not respond.

Anti-protocol protests have previously included outbreaks of violence.

Loyalist sources have suggested that at present there is little appetite for a return to street protests.

Earlier this month the DUP deal received support from Rev Mervyn Gibson, a senior member of the Orange Order, who was speaking in a personal capacity.

Rev Gibson said he received some negative reaction to his intervention.

“The majority of people were respectful in their disagreement and I appreciated that,” he said.

“You got some nameless social media people attacking you but that’s just the nature of life nowadays on the internet.”