Northern Ireland news

Billy Hutchinson: I don't see any 'hidden hand' behind loyalist violence

PUP councillor Billy Hutchinson
Connla Young

PUP leader Billy Hutchinson has said he sees no "hidden hand" behind violence that engulfed loyalist districts this month.

Sources have claimed that the Loyalist Communities Council, which represents the UVF, UDA and Red Hand Commando groups, no longer has any influence over some paramilitary members.

The umbrella group was set up in 2015 and recently withdrew its support for the Good Friday Agreement over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

It has denied that any of its "associated groups" have been involved in the recent trouble.

Hundreds of young people have been involved in disorder across the north.

Concerns have been raised that the violence may spawn new gangs in loyalist districts.

Since the death of Prince Philip loyalists have cancelled all protests, which have been linked to anger over the Northern Ireland Protocol, the decision not to prosecute Sinn Féin members for attending the Bobby Storey funeral and claims of two-tier policing.

Mr Hutchinson was a member of a 'Tartan Gang' in the 1970s before joining the UVF.

Tartan Gangs were made up of young people in unionist areas and many of those involved went on to join paramilitary groups.

The Belfast councillor said he doesn't see any evidence to suggest young people will form new gangs or that any organisations are seeking to radicalise young people.

"I am concerned about all of this obviously but I don't get a sense that people are thinking that way. I don't know what will happen in October when we are out of this grace period," he said.

"I don't see any hidden hand."

The PUP man said the political situation today is different from the 1970s.

"These gangs will only appear if politics don't work," he said.

He added: "We have to work with young people."

Dr Gareth Mulvenna, author of Tartan Gangs and Paramilitaries: The Loyalist Backlash, also said the situation now does not "bear comparison with the early '70s".

"The situation in terms of security is very different now," he said.

He added that he believes authorities could "clamp down" any new gangs that may emerge.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

Northern Ireland news