Worried about new loyalist gangs amid claims that the Loyalist Communities Council represents a minority
Concerns have been raised that recent violent street protests could lead to the emergence of new gangs while the Council of Loyalist Communities (LCC) is believed to represent only a minority of paramilitary members.
Created in 2015, the LCC includes representatives of the UVF, UDA and Red Hand Commando.
It has been suggested that despite the involvement of the three largest loyalist groups, support in some grassroots loyalist districts has waned.
A loyalist source hinted last night that the LCC had “lost control and they didn’t know it”.
It has also been suggested that the majority of loyalist violence has not been coordinated.
The LCC has taken on an increasingly prominent place as tensions over the Northern Ireland Protocol have reached their boiling point in recent weeks.
The recent violence has also been linked to a decision not to prosecute members of Sinn Féin for attending Bobby Storey’s funeral last year.
In a recent letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the LCC withdrew its support for the Good Friday deal
The coordination group came under renewed pressure last week after delaying condemnation of outbreaks of violence in loyalist areas.
He finally broke his silence by asserting that none of his “associated groups” were involved in the recent street violence and said any action taken by the loyalist community should be “entirely peaceful”.
It was suggested last week that the LCC, which includes several prominent loyalist figures, has not been able to come to an agreed position on violence.
Suggestions of divided opinions emerged when the UDA, linked to South Belfast Ulster Political Research Group, issued a statement condemning the violence a day before the LCC clarified its position.
The UPRG statement was deemed as important as South Belfast serves as an electrical base for senior UDA figure Jackie McDonald.
While loyalists appear to have heard calls to temporarily cease demonstrations after Prince Philip’s death, it has been suggested that protests will resume at some point in the near future.
Sources said last night that several loyalist factions are not under the control of the LCC.
While it was already known that the southeastern separation of Antrim UDA is not involved in the LCC, it has now been claimed that other units are also beyond its influence, notably the northern faction. Antrim and Derry UDA.
He has been responsible for multiple attacks in the region in recent years.
Other UDA factions that are said to be out of step with the main organization include the South Derry and Tyrone units.
Sources say there is also discontent in the Armagh and Newry areas.
It has been suggested that the UVF in Mid-Ulster is also divided between those linked to return initiatives by the Shankill Road leaders and others who refuse to engage with them.
The remnants of the LVF, which still has pockets of support in some regions and the Orange Volunteers, do not fall under the LCC either.
Academic Dr Aaron Edwards, author of UVF: Behind the Mask, said that since the formation of LCC in 2015, the landscape has changed dramatically.
“Loyalty has become more fragmented since then and what we have seen in recent months is a new divide in loyalty and not just in terms of former paramilitary groups,” he said.
Dr Edwards, who is a senior lecturer in defense and international affairs at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, said a senior loyalist had previously told him that they had “great difficulty in controlling the disaffection of young people. loyalists ”and that the Union Flag protests in 2012 were used to try to contain the discontent.
“It’s a game of young people and trying to control what is difficult for the paramilitary organizations supposed to be in ceasefire and not armed,” he said.
“It’s a social challenge and the momentum in this area remains since the flag demonstration, the flag demonstration was a glimpse of the future and now we are here.”
“The context has changed and the security situation has changed.”
Dr Edwards said the vacuum in loyalty creates a dangerous space.
“What we are seeing right now is leaderless violence in the streets and it won’t go long without a leader,” he said.
“There is a history in Northern Ireland, in the north of Ireland, of groups of determined individuals emerging to take control and strengthen their own positions.
“It has happened in the past and it will happen again.”
Dr Edwards believes traditional loyalty will continue to fragment.
“What we will potentially see is the emergence of more gangs and the breaking up and siphoning of parts of the loyalist hierarchy,” he said.
Dr Edwards suggested that new loyalist gangs might emerge similar to those in other European countries and suggested that some young loyalists are radicalizing.
“A humanitarian response is what is needed as well as a security response,” he said.
The Belfast native said it is possible that the violence of recent weeks could take “a more serious turn” and spoke of his friend, the journalist, Lyra McKee who was shot dead by the New IRA in a riot in Derry almost two years ago.
“I suspect that during the summer months and the lifting of the restrictions, it won’t turn off before it should,” he said.