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Aontú: Public inquiry into why paramilitaries are being tolerated in Northern Ireland is needed

The All-Ireland party Aontú is calling for an investigation into why Loyalist Paramilitaries, with armouries intact, are allowed to continue to exist and operate unhindered in Northern Ireland.

The Party’s west Belfast Rep, Gerard Herdman, has asked whether the continued presence of Paramilitaries is down to incompetence or deliberate policy.

Mr Herdman said that questions must be asked about the relationship between loyalists, the PSNI, and British Intelligence Services.

“What is the hold that loyalists have on the PSNI and British intelligence services?” he said, adding that this is “an obvious question, given that they continue to exist and thrive two decades after their stated ceasefire”.

“They are recruiting new blood to their ranks and putting them to work in drugs, prostitution and extortion,” he added.

“So, it is not a matter of waiting until the ‘old guard’ pass on, since a whole new generation is there to take their place”. 

 “Given that loyalist paramilitaries continue their activities, armouries intact, why have they not been stopped – especially when you consider the extensive technological and other resources available to organisations such as MI5? Only two reasons seem likely: incompetence or deliberate policy”, Mr Herdman said.

The native of west Belfast, who ran as a candidate in the local Assembly elections last May, says that because of having lived in Belfast during the troubles, he is well aware of how his local community have suffered at the hands of British forces, and the lingering aftereffects, both mentally and economically. In his campaign in May, Mr Herdman highlighted his view that poor political choices have left many people in West Belfast in poverty and short of local employment. 

He said that questions must be asked about the future of Paramilitaries in the province.

“The prevailing theory is that loyalism has a bank of evidence on British Collusion which has given them a ‘get out of jail free card’. Whether this is the reason or not, it does present two further related questions: given the current and future constitutional transition, will the various paramilitary groups use violence to try and frustrate these changes and will the British state exhibit ‘collusive behaviours’ again (ie facilitate maiming, murder and turn that blind Nelson eye as they did during the Troubles). 

“Aontú is calling for a public inquiry into why these paramilitaries are being tolerated”, he said.

“The Loyalist Communities Council (LCC) have been flexing their vocal muscle of late. They have railed against the protocol, Ireland’s Future and any talk of joint authority. Their pronouncements are often apocalyptic and menacing. We have to hope that they are indulging in some form of self-justified sabre rattling to satisfy their tiny base. Worryingly, we can’t count on that being the case. The working title of the group hardly conceals the dangerous organisations behind the name”, he added.

Mr Herdman said his party is calling on the Democratic Unionist Party to condemn the threats posed by loyalist groups, adding that decisive action must be taken. 

“Aontú are asking for all parties and especially the DUP to condemn these threats and to name the loyalist groups responsible. 

“A general, “We don’t condone violence from any quarter” isn’t good enough anymore. Those dark days should not be permitted to return. They should be a bitter memory, not a part of the bright future most of us are trying to create”. 

“Hopefully the LCC will think long and hard about the inflammatory language they are using. The bad times should be remembered, not repeated. Democracy here cant be twisted to suit the purposes of the powerful, the will of the people must win in the end for all our people. The LCC should exist only as an old boys club. The fact that it has teeth to make any threats a bloody reality is down to British securocrats. Why have those teeth not been pulled?” he concluded.

Aontú’s call for an investigation comes just days after loyalist paramilitaries warned of “dire consequences” if there are any moves towards joint authority in the absence of the Stormont executive. 

The Loyalist Communities Council, a group which represents the views of the UDF and UDA,  in a letter to unionist politicians, also referenced politicians from the Republic of Ireland visiting Northern Ireland, which it claimed “continues to inflame anger and tension in loyalist communities”.

The letter said that: “There are no circumstances in which joint authority would be tolerated, and any effort to impose it would inevitably have dire consequences for the progress made from 1994 onwards”.

“In such circumstances, loyalist activists who have worked tirelessly for peace (even in the most trying of circumstances, such as the injustice of the Protocol) would be powerless to prevent an unprecedented reaction”.

It added: “The continued presence of Irish government ministers visiting ‘sanitised audiences’ in Northern Ireland continues to inflame anger and tension in loyalist communities, and we would strongly urge that unionist political leaders make clear that the Irish government should not be visiting Northern Ireland while the protocol remains”.

In March, Foreign Minister Simon Coveney was forced to leave a visit in north Belfast following a hoax bomb alert.

The PSNI said it is aware of the letter sent to a number of party leaders, reported to include the DUP’s Sir Jeffrey Donalson, the UUP’s Doug Beattie, Jim Alister of the TUV, and the PUP’s Billy Hutchinson.

Speaking yesterday, Mr Hutchinson, leader of the Progressive Unionist Party, said that tension within loyalist communities is higher than “at any point” since the ceasefires of 1994. 

Mr Hutchinson said that political developments, including Brexit protocol arrangements, had been the source of rising anger.

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