The Loyalist Communities Council, which includes UVF, UDA and Red Hand Commando, was formed on October 13, 2015.
The introductory document states: “We hope that the Council will become a vehicle to bring about meaningful means and initiatives in support of loyalist communities across Northern Ireland and to enable loyalty, a full and active role in the community and in a wider range of functions as well to play in constitutional politics.”
The potential importance of the council was underscored by the fact that two of the key players were David Campbell (former chief of staff to David Trimble) and Jonathan Powell (former chief of staff to Tony Blair).
The timing of the launch was also significant, just a week before the release of an assessment of paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland, which concluded that UVF, UDA and RHC leaderships are committed to transforming the organisations’ purpose from violent crime to a community-oriented one initiatives, there was “limited control over members’ activities,” and in some cases members were heavily involved in violence and crime.
Response to the LCC was generally positive, recognizing that much work was needed to transform the organizations and improve their visibility.
I noted at the time that it made sense to give the project a fair wind, but added; “If they get it wrong, if this is just another tactical scam, if they ignore the criminal activities of those sheltering under the title of their organizations, if this is just a backdoor for those who were unable to get in elected to assembly or councils, or if this is just another job-for-the-boys performance by Del Boy, then they will do great and probably irreparable damage to working-class loyalty and unionism.”
Concerns were raised in the 2017 general election when the LCC issued a statement in support of the DUP and UUP candidates, claiming the votes for the alliance were “nails in the Union’s coffin”.
Robin Swann, UUP leader, said the UUP “did not ask for support from paramilitary organizations, nor do we want support from organizations that are still involved in paramilitary or criminal activities”.
This view was supported by Jeffrey Donaldson, who said: “The DUP does not want the support of anyone or any organization that remains involved in paramilitary or criminal activities.”
A minor quarrel perhaps, but a quarrel nonetheless: and an indication of concerns within mainstream unions about the specific role of the LCC (although they had mentioned ‘constitutional politics’ in the introductory document).
A senior DUP member told me during the interview that he recognized the LCC had an important role to play in addressing “loyalist concerns on the ground,” but that it was far too early and unlikely to be helpful to the LCC said the Council formally endorsed candidates – “that is not and should not be its role”.
The LCC upped the ante in March 2021 when, in a letter to Boris Johnson, it warned that the NI Protocol undermines the “basis on which the Combined Loyalist Military Command agreed their 1994 ceasefire and subsequent support for the Belfast Accords.”
In fact, the letter went further, saying that the LCC was withdrawing (albeit temporarily) its support for the agreement. That remains his position. But that letter and several subsequent statements, including one dated October 28, have fueled the belief in some quarters that the LCC is essentially issuing veiled threats unless the protocol dilemma is resolved to their liking.
There are concerns that since 2017 the LCC has morphed into primarily a political vehicle rather than just a transitional vehicle: concerns compounded by the presence of an increasing number of signatories to the October 28 declaration, who, in their intent and appear to be purely political in a number of cases, not only anti-protocol but probably anti-convention/anti-HFA as well.
Last week I spoke to a unionized MLA – who was very supportive of the LCC when it was formed – but fear it has been “taken over” and is now being used to dictate protocol politics to all unionized parties to mobilize opposition to the return of the Assembly.
As he put it: “Some elements within or affecting the LCC are so puristic about what qualifies as a resolution on Protocol that they would make it impossible for the DUP to move even if the Protocol Act were intact would have gone through Parliament. And that’s because some of them think direct rule is better than an assembly where a union party isn’t the biggest and we don’t have a DUP First Minister.”
I don’t know how accurate this assessment is, but I do know that there is a growing perception that the LCC has taken on a role that was not apparent on October 13, 2015.
In fairness, Brexit (which many leaders in the Council opposed) has changed the dynamic and pushed the LCC into a more active political role.
However, the language of the most recent letters and statements differs markedly from that of the introductory document; and of a second statement indicating a determination to carry out the original intentions.
It was the general, largely negative, perception of loyalty that led to the formation of the LCC and set the pattern for its role. Seven years later, however, the general perception doesn’t seem to have changed all that much.
This is a pity. The LCC had a huge and important agenda in 2015. That agenda is still there.
https://www.independent.ie/news/loyalist-communities-council-needs-to-get-right-back-to-basics-42130174.html The Loyalist Communities Council needs to get back to basics