The alert on the Crumlin Road cut short a keynote speech by Irish Foriegn Minister Simon Coveney. Mr Bryson later dubbed Mr Coveney “a meddling aggressor” and said the Dublin government “swans around Northern Ireland as if they own the place”. The “peace” event had been organised by the John and Pat Hume Foundation
Asked today whether funding to UVF linked groups should be cut off, if it is confirmed that the UVF was behind the alert, Mr Bryson strongly opposed the idea.
“I don’t think the UVF gets any funding,” he told the News Letter. “I am not aware of any funders which fund the UVF. If there are groups which others are trying to say are linked to the UVF then those groups are properly constituted organisations and groups that adhere to strict conditions in relation to their funding and those groups absolutely should not be punished.
“And let us remember while the IRA were involved in a 30 year terrorist campaign the republican movement were being feted all over the world and their front groups were consistently getting public money and expenses paid to them. So I think it is totally irresponsible to try and deprive working class loyalist and unionist communities of funding which is obtained on merit by groups which have to go through strenuous checks to obtain the funding. And no funding, of course, goes directly to the UVF at all.”
Asked if he thinks Friday’s terrorist security alert is an acceptable way forward for NI politics he replies: “I think everybody wants to see peace and stability in Northern Ireland. I think it was very unfortunate the precedent was set with the Protocol which many people in unionism and loyalism believe was a reward for talking up the potential for IRA bombs b ythe Irish government and others.
“So that set a very dangerous precedent and sent a message that the threat of violence pays - and I think that has created a very difficult situation and created a somewhat of a powderkeg precedentThe only way to fix that is to remove the source of that and that is to remove the Protocol.”
When pointed out to him that he has not criticised those behind the terror alert or called for them to climb down from such attacks, he repeats the same line.
“I think everybody wants to see peace and stability and I would encourage people to ensure that all protests are peaceful - and that has been my position that I encourage people to act peacefully and within the law.”
Asked if he thinks there should be no more such terror alerts he replies: “I have been clear that I think that peaceful protest is the way forward and to adopt Sinn Fein’s own line I am not going to get into selective condemnation or purporting to instruct people what to do or what not to do. I have set my position out clearly. I encourage people to engage in peaceful protest and what other people do is a matter for themselves.”
When it is suggested that he gives the appearance of facing several directions at the same time on such terror alerts, he does not directly address the point.
“My personal view which I have always articulated is that I want to see only peaceful protests and people acting within the law but it is not for me to tell other people what to do and it is up to other people to take their own decisions.” And when it is pointed out that he is much more direct in condemning republican terrorism, he repeats his earlier line.
“I encourage peaceful and lawful protest and it is for other people to take their own view - it is not for me to tell others what to do.”
Asked outright if he condemns Friday’s terror alert he repeats the same line once again.
“I want to see peace and stability in Northern Ireland and therefore I think it is very important that the NI Protocol is removed in its entirety to build the peace and stability that we all want to see.”
In his recent statements he has suggested that loyalist parade organisers were led astray last summer when they de-escalated the number and scale of protest rallies - and that this will change this summer. Asked if that is going to change this year, he replies: “I think last year a lot of people decided to give space to the talks between the EU and UK on the basis of promises set out in the command paper, which were good as far as they went, for a starting point.
“But the government has really failed to deliver on that so I think the protest campaign - and again a peaceful protest campaign - is going to have to be ramped up in intensity because this is never ever going to be tolerated.
“Protests aren’t going to go away. Unionism and loyalism isn’t going to wake up someday [and accept the Protocol] and I am quite confident that the majority of unionism and loyalism will never adopt the Doug Beattie approach of essentially pragmatically implementing the Protocol.”
He says the UK government has the power to overturn the Protocol, but asked if they are going to be swayed by street protests in NI, he suggests directly that peace is at stake, and makes comparisons with “concessions” for IRA violence.
“If the British government genuinely cares about peace and stability in Northern Ireland and having working power sharing institutions then the only way for that to be maintained is the complete removal of the Protocol.
“This was the very dangerous precedent that was set firstly by the peace process to keep IRA bombs out of England. Nationalism and republicans were feted with concession after concession when it came to the protocol. The prospect of republican terrorism on the land border, again, played a significant factor leading to the concession of a sea border being imposed.
“So we are in a situation where the pungent precedent has been set which says that violence pays and that is not the right way forward for any democratic society so that must be corrected. And the only way to correct that impression is to take away the manifestation of that which is the protocol.”
Asked what would replace the Protocol, in his view, he says the starting point should be the actual post-Brexit EU border on the island of Ireland.
“The default starting position is to put the border where it belongs on the Irish border - and if they can work backwards from there to make that as seamless as possible, so be it.
“If there is going to be a border they should put it where it belongs - on the EU border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.”
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