MPs to hear additional ‘loyalist perspectives’ on NI Protocol

Westminster MPs will hear further evidence on Wednesday of the impact the post-Brexit arrangements are having on Northern Ireland, from a loyalist perspective.

Tuesday, 8th June 2021, 6:40 am
One of a number of bands that took part in the Portadown anti-NI Protocol protest on Saturday. Picture: Philip Magowan / Press Eye

Progressive Unionist leader Billy Hutchinson is one of four people due to address the NI Affairs Committee (NIAC) as part of the committee’s NI Protocol Inquiry.

Also giving evidence will be Northern Ireland Alternatives (NIA) co-director Debbie Watters, NIA restorative practitioner Stacey Graham and journalist and author Susan McKay.

When the inquiry was set up in September last year, the committee said: “Under the Protocol a number of EU laws will continue to apply to Northern Ireland following the end of the transition period on 31 December.

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“It was agreed between the UK Government and the EU to avoid a border on the island of Ireland while also recognising that trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain should remain as frictionless as possible.

“The inquiry will anticipate and react to developments in the UK-EU trade negotiations, UK politics, and in the implementation of the Protocol.”

Brexit minister David Frost recently predicted that the protocol agreement was not sustainable for long in its current form.

Announcing Wednesday’s evidence session (June 9), the committee said: “Unionists and loyalists who oppose the agreement argue that this is a form of separation from the rest of the UK.”

The largest anti-protocol protest rally to date took place in Portadown on Saturday.

Several hundred people, some wearing balaclavas, and a number of flute bands also paraded through the town.

The Parades Commission had not been notified and those parading were warned by police that they were acting unlawfully.

The protest, which lasted around 45 minutes, passed off peacefully.

Speaking on the BBC’s Sunday Politics programme, Justice Minister Naomi Long said the appearance of people wearing balaclavas was “not a comfortable view for anyone”.

Police are also probing a number of other un-notified loyalist protest parades that have taken place in recent months, including several in Markethill, Co Armagh.

Last month, 19-year-old Belfast loyalist Joel Keys attracted widespread criticism when he told the NI Affairs Committee he could not rule violence “off the table” as a potential loyalist response.

The Loyalist Communities Council (LCC) representative said: “I am not sure if and when violence will be the answer. I am saying that I would not rule it off the table.”

Mr Keys confirmed to Conservative committee chair Simon Hoare MP the he stood over a social media post in April that said: “To say violence is never the answer is massively naive – sometimes violence is the only tool you have left.”

Mr Hoare described that response as “incredibly worrying and dispiriting,” to which Mr Keys replied: “Well, let me make it clear. I’m no fan of violence, I think that it has to be an absolute last resort.

“But it worries me that we could potentially reach a point in this country, or in any country, where the people feel that they do have to defend themselves.”

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