Northern Ireland news

Widespread concern at LCC warning that violence is 'not off the table'

Violence erupted in several areas last month amid loyalist anger over over the Irish Sea border and a decision not to prosecute any Sinn Féin members over breaches of Covid regulations at the funeral of Bobby Storey

A WARNING from a representative of a loyalist umbrella group that the use of violence to oppose the Northern Ireland protocol is not "off the table" has sparked both widespread dismay and concern.

The remarks were made by 19-year-old Joel Keys, who was among four Loyalist Communities Council (LLC) representatives giving evidence yesterday to Westminster's Northern Ireland Affairs Committee.

Committee chair Simon Hoare described the comments as "incredibly worrying and dispiriting"

The LCC, which purports to represent elements of the UVF, UDA and Red Hand Commando, has previously criticised the Dublin government for using the "threat of resumed violence as a negotiating tool" during the Brexit talks between the EU and British government.

Mr Keys was asked about a post he made online on April 12, that stated: "To say violence is never the answer is massively naive, sometimes violence is the only tool you have left."

Asked by the committee chair if her stood by the comments, Mr Keys replied: "I would stand by the comments.

"You know there are certainly certain circumstances where violence is the only tool you have left.

Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly said the remarks from the LCC representatives were "very concerning".

"To state that violence cannot be taken off the table is completely unacceptable and these remarks must be clarified," the North Belfast MLA said.

"We saw recently the impact of violence on our streets with property destroyed, police officers injured and people terrified in their homes.

SDLP MP and committee member Claire Hanna said she objected to the LCC being invited to give evidence as the group is "a representative body for a paramilitary organisations".

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"People are supportive of the concept that people who have had a past can have a future," she said.

"But 23 years after the Good Friday Agreement people are running out of patience with (loyalist) organisations which continue to exist."

Mr Hoare later tweeted: "Let us be clear and unambiguous: if the rule of law and democracy means anything to you violence is never and option.

"Some arguments you win; some you lose but you accept the result with good grace."

Paul Gallagher, who received life changing injuries when loyalists shot him at his west Belfast home in 1994, challenged Mr Keys remarks on Twitter.

"Please define what you mean by 'violence'? Guns? Bombs? Riot? Hand to hand combat?," he asked.

"And with whom will it be directed? What is your red line on the last resort continuum? These are genuine questions which I hope you will answer honestly."

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