Published On: Sat, Aug 17th, 2019

Ulster loyalists fear Northern Ireland ‘acceptable collateral damage’ amid no deal Brexit | UK | News

Dr John Kyle former interim leader of the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP), linked to loyalist paramilitary group the Ulster Volunteer Force, said loyalists fear the UK Cabinet are “risking Northern Ireland’s economy, peace and secured place within the United Kingdom as acceptable collateral damage in order to achieve Brexit”. He added: “Because what is clear over here in Northern Ireland is that Boris Johnson has little understanding and little interest in the resulting damage, he is absolutely focused on achieving a clean Brexit and any collateral damage is worth it. I don’t think they recognise the potential problems that could arise.”

Robin Swann of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) stressed the need to “get back to the negotiating table with the EU” as the adverse effects of a no-deal in Northern Ireland would be felt “not immediately after the 31st of October deadline, but six to twelve months down the line, when the costs to business start to become apparent and smuggling on the border gets out of hand”.

Ulster loyalists feel that if the chaotic economic and political consequences of a hard border and increased possibility of a border poll manifest, their communities will be affected the most.

One loyalist who moved to London after the ceasefire’s in 1994 said: “If a border poll goes the wrong way it could end up being the Troubles in reverse.”

With the potential of dissident republican violence from a hard border or loyalist violence due to the consequence of a border poll, Dr John Kyle believes these concerns have not been given sufficient significance in the government’s debates, discussions and plans to date.

He said: “I don’t think they recognise the potential problems that could arise.

READ MORE: Nigel Farage reveals ‘first watering down’ of Boris’ Brexit pledges

“It is now twenty-five years from the ceasefires and there is a loss of collective memory because a lot of people in the loyalist community who were caught up in the troubles have died.

“When people who knew how dark those days were have died, or are not active in their communities then there always is a danger that a younger generation could be goaded into violence.”

The potential for renewed loyalist violence is a concern echoed by Reverend Chris Hudson, who played a key role in mediating the UVF ceasefire in 1994.

With recent claims by Sinn Fein’s leader Mary Lou McDonald that Irish unity is the route back to the EU and calling for a border poll because of Brexit, tensions are rising.

Reverend Hudson claimed that one senior UVF member was “nervous because some young loyalists would like the troubles to start again”.

Reverend Hudson described how they could be influenced by, “middlemen who came into the paramilitary organisations ten to fifteen years ago, with no experience of the troubles, and would wish to exploit a chaotic situation to carve little empires for themselves”.

He said: “Some loyalists point out that if there was a vote in favour of a united Ireland why would they have to accept it, given that republicans never accepted a Northern Ireland and used a thirty-year violent campaign against its very existence.”

There is a feeling amongst the smaller loyalist parties that the DUP, which props up the present UK government, have a monopoly on the “spin” surrounding the backstop and are drowning out other voices.

Reverend Hudson maintains that the DUP should consider the backstop as it would “allow Northern Ireland to trade within the European Union and retain that large section of soft nationalism who are happy to stay with the way things are”.

He argues the DUP should “listen to other voices within Northern Ireland as staying in the EU and within the UK is preferential, and the Northern Ireland only backstop could deliver that, in an ambiguous way”.

But the DUP’s Brexit spokesperson Sammy Wilson’s no-deal determination could create the very conditions that he fears the most, “the consensus changing in favour of a united Ireland and a situation where Northern Ireland’s place within the union is less secure”.

Referring to a Northern Ireland only backstop PUP spokesperson Dr Kyle said: “The people are being told and warned that a border down the Irish Sea would cut Northern Ireland adrift.

“In fact it gives Northern Ireland an economic advantage and I don’t think it undermines its constitutional position, I think it strengthens it.

“It could create a unique position that addresses the fears of the nationalist population, such as the concerns that they will lose the Irish dimension, and holds intact the Good Friday Agreement, while keeping Northern Ireland firmly within the UK which means the principle of consent is likely to remain in favour of staying within the union.”

Although Dr Kyle stresses this view is not typical of the majority of loyalists as most would be “unnerved by the prospect of a border down the Irish Sea”.

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