LCC reaches a crossroads

When the Loyalist Communities Council (LCC) was launched in 2015, with the involvement of the three main related paramilitary groups, the UVF, the UDA and the Red Hand Commando, the objectives it set out were praiseworthy.

The intention was defined as `bringing loyalism in from the cold,' with the participants enjoying support in high places as they promised to reject all forms of illegal behaviour and recommit to the aims of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Their main priorities were said to be addressing economic under-achievement and disenfranchisement in the political process for loyalists, as well as providing law-abiding responses to criminality.

It is difficult to see where the LCC has made discernible progress on these fronts over the last six years, with economic and indeed educational issues still a major problem and the malign influence of loyalist paramilitary groups remaining very much in place.

Another serious indictment of the LCC is that it has somehow managed to alienate sections of loyalism from not just from the overall Stormont structures but increasingly from the main unionist parties.

In its latest intervention on Friday, the LCC was equally scathing of the Irish government, which without producing evidence it accused of blocking attempts to develop dialogue with the European Commission, and both the DUP and the Ulster Unionists, who were childishly urged to boycott the North-South Ministerial Council.

It was perhaps not surprising that the LCC, having already performed a public u-turn in rejecting the Good Friday Agreement, is becoming ever more hostile to nationalist representatives, whether in Dublin or Belfast.

However, the aggressive approach displayed to the DUP and the UUP, as all sections of unionism struggle with the realities of the Brexit debacle, suggests that the LCC has reached a crossroads.

If it really believes that the two largest unionist groups are entirely out of touch with their electorate by maintaining the most limited contacts with their southern neighbours, the next logical step is to field candidates against them in next year's Assembly contest.

The electoral record of candidates linked to the illegal loyalist organisations is disastrous, but the opportunity is there to establish what the mood is within the wider unionist community.

It is sadly less likely that the LCC might remember its 2015 principles and attempt to work constructively with all sections of society in the best interests of both main traditions.

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