Northern Ireland news

Justice Minister Naomi Long urges British government to stop engaging with LCC

Justice Minister Naomi Long. Picture by Mal McCann

THE JUSTICE minister last night urged the British government to stop engaging with the group that purports to represent loyalist paramilitary elements.

Naomi Long made the call after the Loyalist Communities Council (LCC) said "Irish ministers and officials were not welcome in Northern Ireland".

The Alliance leader said the LCC, which claims to represent the UVF, UDA and Red Hand Commando, should be treated by the British government "as they would any other group issuing veiled threats".

She said Stormont's parties should also stop their engagement with the umbrella group, whose spokesman is former Ulster Unionist chairman David Campbell.

"It is not for the LCC or anyone else to dictate who is and who is not welcome here – they speak for no-one but loyalist paramilitaries," Mrs Long told The Irish News.

"Treating the LCC as a legitimate organisation when it is an umbrella group for those who purport to speak on behalf illegal terrorist and organised crime gangs has gone on long enough."

She said the British government should stop treating the LCC as "stakeholders".

SDLP MLA Matthew O'Toole said the loyalist umbrella group "does not speak for Northern Ireland".

"In fact it is unclear who they speak for, other than themselves and the illegal organisations they represent," he said.

"These lurid words should further give pause to those platforming and normalising their speech."

In a wide-ranging statement, the LCC criticised both the Dublin and London governments, saying the latter was risking "significant political and community instability" with its pledge this week to legislate on Irish language if Stormont stalls the process.

Referring to recent illegal protests against the Northern Ireland protocol, the statement said "continued denials and insulting commentary from the Irish government proves the extent to which they misled European leader".

It said ministers and officials from the Republic were no longer welcome north of the border.

The LCC urged the next DUP leader to stop the "constant flow of concessions to Sinn Féin", even it meant the suspension of devolution.

In March Secretary of State Brandon Lewis defended a meeting between his officials and the LCC, saying it was "absolutely right" to engage with groups who were "against violence and towards democracy".

The LCC was launched in 2015 with backing from former Downing Street chief of staff Jonathan Powell.

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