DUP signals 'constructive' engagement with Loyalist Communities Council will continue
THE DUP has indicated that it has no plans to break off engagement with the representatives of loyalist paramilitaries who remain silent on an escalating criminal feud and drug arrests.
DUP MLA Emma Little-Pengelly, earmarked by some to be the party's deputy first minister if the executive is ever restored, said the Loyalist Communities Council (LCC) was "clearly placed... to talk about the issues happening within communities".
She said her party had "always made clear that we want to engage with people but we will do so constructively".
The umbrella group purporting to represent elements of the UVF, UDA and Red Hand Commando is chaired by Co Antrim farmer David Campbell, a board member of the publicly-funded Agri Food and Biosciences Institute.
He regularly issues statements via email attacking the Irish government and warning of loyalist unrest.
But there has been no comment from the group on the escalating feud in north Down between UDA factions and a major drugs seizure on the outskirts of east Belfast, linked to the UVF.
Ms Little-Pengelly was challenged on her party's engagement with the LCC on Radio Ulster's morning news programme.
In regards to engagement between her party and the representatives of illegal groups, the Lagan Valley MLA said: "We will do so while making it absolutely clear that any paramilitarism or terrorism or criminal gang behaviour is wrong.
"The LCC are clearly in place to talk about the issues happening within communities – they may well be coming out with some sort of statement... I don't know, I'm not across the internal dealings within that organisation."
The former Stormont junior minister said it was important that "everybody sends a very strong message out that this type of behaviour is just unacceptable".
Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry, in whose constituency the feud related attacks took place, said his party maintained that "all paramilitary organisations must disband".
"They are proscribed bodies and membership is illegal – the LCC serves no positive purpose in serving as their mouthpiece or providing so-called analysis on their behalf," he said.
"Any LCC comment that seeks to condemn specific offences whilst not challenging the ongoing existence of paramilitaries would be cynical and worthless."