Northern Ireland news

Jonathan Powell urged Loyalist Communities Council to break its silence on street violence

Former No 10 chief of staff with PUP leader Billy Hutchinson and UDA leader Jackie McDonald in 2015. Picture by Mal McCann

THE former Downing Street chief of staff who helped launch the Loyalist Communities Council (LCC) has called on the paramilitary umbrella group to break its silence on recent street violence.

Jonathan Powell, the former aide to Tony Blair who shared a platform with UVF, UDA and Red Hand Commando leaders in 2015 at the launch of LCC, said he expected the group to condemn recent rioting in Belfast, Derry and Co Antrim.

He said did not represent the LCC but claimed the group's representatives had been actively seeking to prevent recent violence that has seen more than 40 police officers injured.

The group, which is fronted by former Ulster Unionist Party chairman David Campbell, has yet to make a public statement about the disorder in loyalist areas.

UUP MLA Mike Nesbitt, who sacked Mr Campbell on becoming party leader in 2012, said earlier this week that the LCC had been "conspicuous in their silence".

Mr Powell defended his support for the LCC, saying it was a "good idea to try reach out to those who want to work politically".

He said he could not "claim to know the thinking of the LCC".

"As I understand it from them, they've been doing their very best to prevent this violence, actually going out on the street and trying to prevent the kids... they are very young children getting hold of the weapons that they're using... and trying to stop the violence happening – so that's a commendable thing," he said.

"I do hope they'll speak up, I do hope they'll make it clear that they completely condemn this violence because it's appalling and it does nothing for the loyalist cause at all - it does the opposite."

The former No 10 aide said the violence was being exploited by politicians "who see it as an opportunity to air their grievances".

He also rejected Mr Campbell's criticisms of the Republic's government, carried in a newspaper platform on Tuesday.

Mr Powell said Dublin had made "huge efforts" to reach out to loyalism.

In comments seemingly directed at unionist politicians, he said: "I think playing with fire, in allowing this to be tied into identity politics and even violence, is a terrible mistake.

"I think people are playing with matches. I think it is really unwise, even given the turbulence caused by Brexit."

He said politicians "trying to second guess" the police when in their operational decisions was a mistake.

"I hope that the first minister will back off on this and allow the police to proceed with their job."

Mr Powell said loyalists had been "left behind" and had "lost their political voice".

"I think there needs to be an attempt to reach out to loyalists who are prepared to go down the political path," he said.

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