Naomi Long’s concern over DUP/loyalist engagement if it involves to ‘cosying up to loyalist terrorists’
DUP engagement with loyalists is “completely inappropriate” if it involves “cosying up to loyalist terrorists,” Northern Ireland’s justice minister has said.
Responding to comments made by DUP MP Ian Paisley, Naomi Long said it would be particularly concerning if those who “wield the threat of violence” were being given the opportunity to influence the policy decisions of a main political party.
During an interview with Jamie Bryson’s Unionist Voice blog, the North Antrim MP said: “There has already been a direct outreach program being undertaken under the direction of the new leader, and there is a willingness to formalise that relationship between loyalism and the DUP leadership.
“We must maintain a momentum of ongoing engagement. There is consideration of a think tank to consider policy positions, which loyalism could play a role in; the leader is very keen to see that process formalised.”
Speaking on the BBC’s Good Morning Ulster programme on Wednesday, Mrs Long said: “I don’t have a problem with that if you are talking about people who are loyalist in their views. I think everyone deserves the opportunity to have an influence over what happens in society, but if by loyalist it is code for ‘loyalist paramilitaries’ then of course I have a problem.
“I would have an issue if that means cosying up to loyalist terrorists.”
Mrs Long added: “I have no problem... if that engagement is about saying to them, ‘when are you going to pack up your tents and go? Because that would be my conversation with any paramilitary organisation.
“If it is about policy position it is completely inappropriate because those who wield the threat of violence, who wield the threat of disruption should have no influence on politics in Northern Ireland.”
Commenting on the protest activity around the implementation of the post-Brexit Northern Ireland Protocol, she said: “I think we are all working very hard to de-escalate some of the tensions around this.
“Irrespective of what any of us think of the protocol it is currently here. It is the law and, from my perspective, it is about ensuring, first of all that we implement the law, that we do what we are required by the law, and secondly, that we find in the Executive some consensus around how we want to deal with the protocol.”
Jamie Bryson was interviewed a short time later on the Nolan Show and said Ian Paisley had made it clear that his party “condemned all forms of criminality”.
Mr Bryson said: “Be fair to Ian Paisley, because Ian Paisley did say in the article that he had no problem engaging with people who would have been paramilitaries or from that background. But he was very clear that he opposed and condemned all forms of criminality, and that the DUP wouldn’t support or stand for that.”
Asked why loyalist paramilitary organisations still existed, Mr Bryson said it was his “purely personal analysis” that he didn’t envisage loyalist paramilitary organisations “going anywhere given the current situation with Brexit and with the threat to the Union”.
He said: “The imposition of the protocol quite legitimately in the minds of many loyalists, has actually legitimised the use of the threat of violence, and that is a very dangerous message to send.
Mr Bryson also said the long-established loyalist paramilitary organisations are keeping young loyalists from engaging in violence and “encouraging a political focus”.
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