Northern Ireland

MP met loyalists on ‘personal’ fact-finding mission

Simon Hoare said he met the UDA and UVF as part of a ‘listening exercise’ (Brian Lawless/PA)
Simon Hoare said he met the UDA and UVF as part of a ‘listening exercise’ (Brian Lawless/PA)

A Conservative MP reportedly met with loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland as a personal fact-finding mission, a Westminster committee has said.

The Belfast Telegraph reported that Simon Hoare, chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, held separate meetings with UDA and UVF figures earlier this month to encourage them to buy into the Windsor Framework.

Mr Hoare told the newspaper he had attended the meetings in a personal capacity.

The UDA and UVF are illegal paramilitary organisations. While both are on ceasefire, they have been linked with ongoing criminality.

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Police said earlier this year they were monitoring tensions in loyalist areas following the unveiling of the Windsor Framework, designed to ease trading barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

In late 2021, two buses in loyalist areas were hijacked and burnt amid rising tensions over opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee released a statement about the meetings, which said they were not an attempt to represent the committee.

The statement said: “The chair’s visit to Northern Ireland was to fact-find to inform House and committee discussion on paramilitary activity and organised crime in Northern Ireland.

“The visit was not an attempt to represent the committee or communicate its views.”

Mr Hoare told the Belfast Telegraph: “I was there to listen directly to a group of people in Northern Ireland who are so angry and frustrated.

“It was a listening exercise to help inform my understanding of a group of people who are hard to reach.”

He added: “I will talk to anybody in and around Northern Ireland who is prepared to talk to me.

“You can talk to all sorts of people about all sorts of things. It doesn’t mean you agree with them.”