LCC chairman condemns `vilification' of teen following Committee evidence on loyalist violence
THE chairman of a loyalist umbrella group has condemned what it described as "the vilification" of a teenager who it put forward to given evidence to the British parliament.
Joel Keys (19) gave evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee after the Loyalist Communities Council (LCC) was invited to brief MPs.
He faced criticism after refusing to rule out violence as a loyalist response to the controversial Northern Ireland Protocol.
The LCC represents paramilitaries, including the UVF, UDA and Red Hand Commando, and was set up in 2015 to help loyalists engage with the political process.
Chairman David Campbell issued a statement "condemn(ing) without hesitation the vilification of the LCC delegate to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Mr Joel Keys by elements of the media and certain politicians".
"The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee has been taking evidence on the impact of Brexit and the NI Protocol and the LCC applied to give evidence from across the loyalist unionist spectrum.
"Although only 19 years old Joel Keys risked his own personal safety on Good Friday to try and dissuade younger children from rioting and attacking the police at Sandy Row.
"The LCC felt his evidence would be helpful for the NIAC to understand how young loyalist activists feel about the Protocol."
Mr Campbell said after the session he was contacted by "several eminent parliamentarians" who praised the panel "and Joel in particular".
However, he said Northern Ireland commentators had attempted "to demonise the loyalist unionist community".
He praised SDLP MP Claire Hanna as "articulate and capable" and asked that she "now assist us in seeking a working alternative to the Protocol, and to addressing the main economic and educational deficits that continue to persist in many loyalist areas".
Mr Campbell echoed earlier DUP criticism of Alliance MP Stephen Farry who refused to take part in the meeting "on a point of principle... (and) respectfully disagreed with my colleagues on giving the LCC a platform".
He accused the North Down representative of showing "exceptional political cowardice".