Loyalists warn Dublin could be targeted in protocol violence escalation
The loyalist campaign to scrap the Northern Ireland Protocol is set to "escalate" with violent attacks in Dublin not being ruled out.
The dire warning comes just days after Irish government minister Simon Coveney was targeted in a hoax bomb alert in north Belfast while attending a peace building event.
Mr Coveney fled the Houben Centre in Ardoyne when a man was forced to drive a van from the Shankill Road area to the venue after being told there was a bomb on board.
The incident has been linked to opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol, which puts an economic border down the Irish Sea.
The protocol is bitterly opposed by loyalists who have directed some of their anger towards the Irish government.
The PSNI quickly blamed the UVF for the hoax alert.
While the UVF is being singled out, a source last night suggested that "all loyalists groups are on the same page".
The veteran loyalist said that "the protocol has to go and if it doesn't go then things are going to keep escalating" adding it is not imagined "that any civilians would ever be targeted".
Asked about politicians from across the border, the source said: "It's been made pretty clear....loyalism has expressed their view on the Irish government in Northern Ireland and that's a view widely shared across unionism and loyalism".
Pressed on whether there was serious intent around violence, the veteran loyalist said: "Yeah, things are going to keep escalating, people shouldn't underestimate the seriousness of the situation."
"It's started now and it wont stop until the protocol goes....people have give enough time for talking," the source said.
The source also warned that Dublin could be a target.
"As matters continue to escalate minds will start to turn towards what loyalists see as the aggressors in all this and that would naturally mean turning towards Dublin," it was claimed.
"I don't think we are at that stage yet but I think we are not far away from it."
The source added that there have been no suggestion from loyalists "that there's any threat to nationalists, Catholics or any civilian population whatsoever, absolutely not".
The loyalist also said the "leadership of loyalism feel they have been undermined in the sense they have worked hard to keep the peace as long as they possibly can but the tidal wave is just overcoming them now".
It is suggested loyalist leaders now believe they are in battle for their future.
"They are willing participants in as much as they have concluded this is it, this is the battle for the union, they have to do what they have to do but really they would rather not and they would rather peace and stability for everyone."
It is claimed that the protocol has "exposed the Good Friday Agreement as not being what was promised.....and the protocol has been the torchlight to illuminate that".
Academic Dr Aaron Edwards, author of 'UVF:Behind the Mask', said a struggle has been taking place within loyalism.
"Last summer I suggested there as a struggle for the soul of Ulster loyalism going on between those who were generally supportive of the peace process and those who had been fervently against it for many years.
"That acted as an accelerant really to the protest action we saw in relation to the Northern Ireland Protocol 309 so the two things have come together and have inflamed the situation even further."
Dr Edwards, who is a senior lecturer in defence and international affairs at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, added that in recent months mainstream loyalists have turned "their backs on the peace process".
He added that attacks carried out by loyalist paramilitaries in recent years have generally been internal "and has not had the potential to escalate to anything more strategically dangerous".
"However, in recent days it has become clear that the mainstream paramilitary groups have lost that battle in terms of, they have not been able to keep a lid on tensions that have boiled over within their own communities so they have been faced with a dilemma, either they stand aside and allow spontaneous protest action and violence potentially to escalate or they harness that.
"I think what we are seeing is a harnessing of that.
"It's purely speculative at the moment but that's certainly what I'm hearing."