Sea border briefing prompts protest

The line on the map is all too easy to see but the line in the sea is now a reality too

By Anthony Neeson

An SDLP MP has hit out at the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) after its officials met representatives of proscribed loyalist paramilitary groups to brief them on the new Irish Sea border

The meeting with the Loyalist Communities Council (LCC), which represents the UVF, UDA and Red Hand Commando, lasted 90 minutes.

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The group said it was “briefed on the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol” during the Zoom meeting.

Robert Williamson from the LCC told the Belfast Telegraph: “It was forthright and hard-hitting. People spoke their minds. It was important for the NIO to be told the feeling in loyalist working-class estates. There is a lot of fear that our identity is being diluted. There are concerns about empty supermarket shelves and lorries queued at ferry ports.”

The LCC pressed the NIO to ensure that President Joe Biden “was briefed on the need for impartiality and respect for the majority position in Northern Ireland when it comes to dealing with the NI-US issues."

SDLP MP Claire Hanna has called on the Secretary of State, Brandon Lewis, to explain why the Northern Ireland Office met with the representatives of proscribed organizations.

The South Belfast MP said the NIO engagement with criminal gangs stands in stark contrast with the Secretary of State’s refusal to meet local ministers in relation to a financial package for a pension scheme for victims of the Troubles.

“It beggars belief that proscribed paramilitary groups, which are actively involved in criminality, racketeering, threatening journalists and politicians are in talks with the Northern Ireland Office about trade arrangements across the Irish Sea,” Hanna said.

“The Secretary of State needs to urgently explain why these gangs, which continue to cause pain and misery in communities across Northern Ireland, are being hosted by his department while he continues to turn a blind eye to requests from Executive Ministers to discuss a pension for victims of the troubles. It is a perverse sense of priority.”

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