Doug Beattie: I have alienated loyalists but I don’t accept that loyalism equals paramilitarism - row with LCC goes on
UUP leadership contender Doug Beattie says he is mindful that he has “alienated” loyalists, but has challenged them to say if loyalism is the same thing as paramilitarism.
During an interview with the BBC on Tuesday, Mr Beattie said he would not be taking advice from the Loyalist Communities Council (LCC), which includes representatives from the UDA, UVF and Red Hand Commando.
Mr Beattie said: “If I meet the Loyalist Communities Council, the first thing I will be asking them is when they will be disbanding and when they will be leaving people alone and getting their foot off the necks of people in Northern Ireland.”
He added: “Let’s not tar all loyalism as paramilitary groups. There is no place in our society today for any paramilitary groups. If they are here they need to go.”
However LCC chairman David Campbell responded that he was “astonished” to hear the comments from Mr Beattie, whom he said had denigrated the LCC before he had even been elected leader, and by implication had also criticised the work the LCC has done in “transforming loyalist organisations and promoting the need for economic and educational initiatives in loyalist communities”.
Mr Campbell, a former chairman of the UUP, added: “How will he explain to the party membership his strategy for regaining the trust of the wider unionist electorate when he begins his campaign by alienating at least a third of that electorate?
“I would ask Mr Beattie to reflect on his comments and to reach out to support loyalist unionists rather than parrot the anti-loyalist rhetoric we have come to expect from Alliance and Sinn Fein.”
Mr Beattie told the News Letter that he was mindful of the LCC response “and that my comments have alienated loyalists”.
“So I ask this. Which statement are they upset with, is it that I want paramilitaries who are involved with drug dealing, criminality and coercion to disband and leave the stage or are they upset with me saying that Loyalism should not be viewed through the lens of Paramilitarism?”
He said that loyalists are some of the most “socially liberal and forward thinking” people in society.
“I’m happy to talk to anyone and I will have frank conversations, they will start with the question about when will paramilitary groups disband. But this characterisation that loyalism equals paramilitarism is something I will always reject.”
In turn, Mr Campbell told the News Letter he found it difficult to understand what Mr Beattie was trying to say.
“The LCC is about providing a voice for loyalist communities who feel ignored and assisting in the transition of groups from paramilitarism,” he said.
“His labelling of an entire community as criminals and drug dealers is wrong and deeply offensive. It is what we expect of Alliance and Sinn Fein not from other unionists. I would have thought Mr Beattie should be applauding this work rather than calling on it to stop.”
Meanwhile, the BBC reported today that UK Brexit minister Lord Frost met with the LCC - and other groups - during his visit to Northern Ireland earlier this week.
The LCC delegation included representatives of paramilitary groups.
Following his trip, he said it was hard to see the Irish Sea border in its current form lasting for long.
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