Northern Ireland

Loyalist paramilitary groups withdraw support for Good Friday Agreement

Loyalists have been vocal in opposition to an Irish Sea border
Loyalists have been vocal in opposition to an Irish Sea border

LOYALIST paramilitary groups have told Prime Minister Boris Johnson they are withdrawing support for the Good Friday Agreement.

The Loyalist Communities Council, representing the views of the UVF, UDA and Red Hand Commando, said the last time the "unionist family" was so united was in opposition to the Anglo Irish Agreement in 1985.

In a letter to Mr Johnson, seen by The Irish News, chairman David Campbell states "I have no doubt that you are aware of the strong feelings in Northern Ireland regarding the imposition of the NI Protocol", adding that loyalists are determined it "should be replaced".

It what will be seen as a worrying development, the umbrella group adds that they are "hereby withdrawing support for the Belfast Agreement and its institutions until our rights under the agreement are restored".

"If the EU is not prepared to honour the entirety of the agreement then it will be responsible for the permanent destruction of the agreement," the letter says.

"The LCC is prepared to play a meaningful role in seeking a workable solution, however, a starting point has to be the acceptance that a hard border of the island of Ireland, or between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, has no cross-community support here and therefore untenable.

"It must be patently obvious to you that the triggers detailed in Article 16 of the protocol, ie the extreme economic and societal difficulties, now pertain and must be acted on without further delay."

A similar letter is also expected to be sent to Taoiseach Micheál Martin.

Reacting to the letter, Boris Johnson's official spokesman said today: "We are fully committed to the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement."

The British government "will continue to work to safeguard Northern Ireland's integral place in the United Kingdom" and to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland.

"We are determined to protect the agreement in all of its dimensions."

The LCC was set up in 2015 to provide a platform for loyalist paramilitary groups to "leave the stage".

However, since the Brexit withdrawal agreement it has been vocal in opposition to an Irish Sea border.

Representatives have met with the NIO and last week met the leadership of the DUP.

At the meeting attended by Arlene Foster and Nigel Dodds were PUP spokesperson Winston Irvine, loyalist leader Jackie McDonald and former prisoner Jim Wilson.

Ms Foster defended the meeting, saying: "Ignoring communities will take Northern Ireland in the wrong direction".

In response to an Irish News tweet about the letter last night, Alliance MP Stephen Farry said: "And does Boris Johnson respond and give more oxygen to the normalisation of treating illegal organisations like any other stakeholder in society?"

Details emerged as the European Commission accused the British government of being in violation of its post-Brexit obligations after unilaterally deciding to continue protocol grace periods until October.

Britain is set to breach international law for a second time, vice-president Maros Sefcovic warned.

The Irish government also branded the extension of a soft-touch regulatory regime on some goods entering Northern Ireland from Britain as "deeply unhelpful".