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Edwin Poots criticised over appointment of Loyalist Communities Council's David Campbell to agri-food body

Loyalist Communities Council spokesman David Campbell. Picture by Stephen Davison

EDWIN Poots' appointment of loyalist paramilitary spokesman David Campbell to the board of a prestigious agricultural research body was last night described as "baffling".

The Loyalist Communities Council (LCC) chair is one of 11 new appointments to the board of the Belfast-based Agrifood & Biosciences Institute (Afbi).

The minister's controversial decision comes at a time when the Executive Office has failed for months to approve a new head of the watchdog for public appointments.

Mr Campbell, a former chairman of the Ulster Unionist Party, has been a vociferous opponent of the Northern Ireland Protocol and in recent months has singled out Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney for particular criticism.

In June, he issued a statement on behalf of the LCC - which represents the UDA, UVF and Red Hand Commando - saying Irish ministers and officials were "not welcome in Northern Ireland".

Speaking at the annual Progressive Unionist Party conference in October, Mr Campbell also insisted the Irish Sea border resulting from the protocol “has to go”.

An LCC representative told a Westminster committee earlier this year that loyalist violence over the protocol was not “off the table”.

DUP councillor Tim McClelland, who is also among those appointed by Mr Poots yesterday, is the only one to have declared that he has undertaken any political activity, in line with guidelines for taking up such posts.

When applying for the Afbi role, which pays £412 for each day worked, candidates are also expected to declare if there is any conflict of interest that could bring the organisation into disrepute.

Minister for Agriculture and the Environment Edwin Poots

Mr Campbell, who has declined to be interviewed by The Irish News on the basis that he "can't speak without authorisation", is a Co Antrim-based dairy farmer, who was awarded a CBE in 2005.

The former special adviser to David Trimble has come to public prominence in recent years while speaking alongside leading loyalists under the LCC banner.

SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone said the appointment was "baffling".

The Mid-Ulster representative said he was "incredulous" that Mr Campbell did not declare any political activity.

"This year this man has been responsible for directing angry vitriol at Irish government ministers and blaming them for a deal that the British government signed up to. So to suggest that's not political activity is just daft," he said.

He said he planned to raise the appointment at Stormont's agriculture committee next week.

There was no comment from Mr Campbell or from Mr Poots' department.

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