“Fight for the soul of Ulster loyalty” as concerns grow over escalating anti-protocol tensions
Concerns have been expressed about escalating anti-protocol tension amid a “struggle for the soul of Ulster loyalty”.
In recent weeks, the language used by some loyalist factions has hardened as anger over the Northern Ireland Protocol, which places a border along the Irish Sea, continues to grow.
A menacing banner carried during a loyalist parade in Newtownards last week warned of “Dublin’s Choice: Peace or Protocol” and carried a photo of the Clyde Valley – a ship used to smuggle UVF weapons into Ireland in 1914.
On the same day, the Loyalist Communities Council (LCC), a coordination group of the UVF, UDA and Red Hand Commando, said Irish government officials and ministers were not welcome in the North.
Now, as the peak of the marching season approaches, there are renewed fears that tensions will continue to mount.
Academic Dr Aaron Edwards, author of ‘UVF: Behind the Mask’, warned that those involved in the protest action “find themselves empowered to push this into escalating tensions.”
“What I am certainly hearing is that the political process has broken down and with the imminent change in leadership of the DUP once won and the rhetoric we see at the protests,” he said.
“We see rhetoric around two-tier policing and also that Sinn Féin gets more concessions from the UK government and the policy doesn’t work for some sections of unionism and loyalty, I think that’s a recipe for an escalation of tensions. “
Dr Edwards, senior lecturer in defense and international affairs at the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst, said recent shifts in emphasis within loyalty should cause concern.
“As far as I’m concerned, I think the alarm bells should ring because of the chauvinistic rhetoric that is coming from the tough sections of Ulster loyalty right now,” he said.
“We are at a crossroads, either it will run out like a wet firecracker or the tensions will escalate… I think we are so close to a tipping point both ways.”
Dr Edwards said work had been done to address loyalist concerns since an outbreak of protocol-related violence in April.
“There is a work going on by people within unionism in general to listen to the concerns of loyalists and to deal with disaffection and take the sales breath away from a tendency to turn violent,” he said. declared.
“So if this activity was successful over the next two months, we may not see any violence at all.
“However, there are still people within the loyalty and on the fringes of the paramilitary loyalty, who push and try to manipulate people into engaging in violence and, in the end, it is a struggle for the soul of Ulster loyalty today, both of great difficulty for Ulster unionism in general.
Dr Edwards added that “sane voices, calm voices win the argument that violence is not the way to go.”
The expert added that he believes the LCC coordination group represents only between 25 and 50 percent of loyalist paramilitary groups.
Earlier this year, the Irish News reported that the LCC did not represent significant swathes of loyalist groups outside of Belfast.