LCC chairman condemns ‘vilification’ of nineteen-year-old loyalist Joel Keys after he appears before MPs on NI Protocol

The chairman of the Loyalist Communities Council has issued a vigorous defence of one of its members who gave evidence to MPs this week about the NI Protocol.

Friday, 21st May 2021, 12:34 pm
Updated Saturday, 22nd May 2021, 11:05 am

Nineteen-year-old Joel Keys attracted widespread criticism this week when he refused to rule out violence as a loyalist response to the NI Protocol.

Mr Keys told MPs on the NI Affairs Committee: “I am not sure if and when violence will be the answer. I am saying that I would not rule it off the table.”

Members of the LCC - which represents the UVF, UDA and RHC - were giving evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee on Brexit and the Irish Sea border.

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Joel Keys addressing the NI Affairs Committee at Westminster

But today chairman of the LCC - David Campbell - issued a strong defence of Mr Keys.

“I condemn without hesitation the vilification of the LCC delegate to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Mr Joel Keys by elements of the media and certain politicians,” he said.

“The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee has been taking evidence on the impact of Brexit and the NI Protocol and the LCC applied to give evidence from across the loyalist unionist spectrum. Although only 19-years-old, Joel Keys risked his own personal safety on Good Friday to try and dissuade younger children from rioting and attacking the police at Sandy Row. The LCC felt his evidence would be helpful for the NIAC to understand how young loyalist activists feel about the Protocol.

“Subsequent to the NIAC session, I was contacted by several eminent parliamentarians who commended the LCC panel in general, and Joel in particular. It is a sad reflection on Northern Ireland’s commentators that they could not be so generous but instead persist in their attempts to demonise the Loyalist unionist community. They will never be allowed to succeed.”

Mr Campbell said the LLC faced robust questioning from, amongst others Claire Hanna, MP whom he also had several exchanges with.

“I do not agree with some of her points but she demonstrated how articulate and capable she is,” he said. “I hope she will now assist us in seeking a working alternative to the Protocol, and to addressing the main economic and educational deficits that continue to persist in many loyalist areas. I would invite her and the SDLP leadership to meet with the LCC in the near future.”

Mr Campbell said her engagement was in “sharp contrast” with Stephen Farry, MP who showed “exceptional political cowardice in boycotting the Committee hearing”.

He added: “He continues to expose the hypocrisy of the Alliance Party and their steady move towards republicanism. What is most disturbing is that although his constituency is arguably the most affluent in Northern Ireland it also contains some of the most deprived areas. He has comprehensively let his loyalist and unionist constituents down.”

Mr Keys also defended himself.

“Despite the fact that this has already been said, I feel I have to reiterate that I am not involved or affiliated with any paramilitary groups,” he said on social media today. “No one has put words in my mouth, I haven’t been ‘coached’. I speak as a member of the loyalist community, nothing else.”

He added: “I’d like to spin this question back around on those accusing me of issuing threats. Who is it that I have threatened?”

Yesterday he said: “All I have done is provide an accurate analysis of the situation in NI. People are angry and frustrated. They may, or may NOT feel they need to resort to violence. I have made clear I think violence should be avoided until there is no other option left. That’s the real story.”

But Mr Farry rejected comments from Mr Campbell.

“I respectfully disagreed with my colleagues on the NI Affairs Committee on the wisdom of giving a platform to the LCC on Brexit and the Protocol,” he said.

“I am increasingly concerned at the mainstreaming of what is a front for illegal organisations as a voice for a section of our community.

“The only conversation with the LCC I am interested in is around disbandment. I do want to hear alternative voices from Loyalism outside the context of paramilitary structures. The platforming of the LCC suppresses such voices and perpetuates coercive control. I will continue to represent the people of Northern Ireland by standing up for democracy and the rule of law.”

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