Loyalists had the right to make their voices heard, says Northern Ireland president
The chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee defended a decision allowing the Loyalist Communities Council to testify at a meeting this week.
You followed the criticism of the comments made by LCC members during Wednesday’s discussion.
One of its members, Joel Keys, 19, said: “I don’t know if and when violence will be the answer. I’m saying I wouldn’t rule it out.”
It drew criticism from Simon Hoare, the president, who said it was an “incredibly disturbing and disheartening response”.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph yesterday, Mr Hoare, a Tory MP, said it was fair that the committee invited the LCC to testify.
Mr. Hoare explained that he had received a request from the LCC two weeks before their appearance and forwarded it to the members of the committee.
The LCC was asked to submit written evidence, but the group explained that it lacked the resources to do so and the committee voted to allow them to testify orally.
“This is the decision we made,” Hoare said. “I think overall it was and remains the right one. It is not for us, as a review committee, to choose who we hear and who do not want to hear.
“NIAC’s oversight function is at its best when we hear all voices, including some opinions that we will agree with and including analysis of some that we will agree with.
“Others with whom we will have fundamental disagreements.”
Mr. Hoare explained that NIAC would do the same for any organization wishing to submit evidence.
“My starting point as president is to hear and criticize, and that’s how I think the best democracy works,” he said.
Meanwhile, the DUP accused the Alliance of “breathtaking double standards” for boycotting the committee as the party sits on the executive with former IRA members.
North Down MP Alex Easton said area MP Stephen Farry cited “ridiculous reasons” for not attending the meeting because the LCC was also attending.
“The explanation does not stand up to scrutiny and Stephen Farry is extremely hypocritical,” he said.
However, the Alliance deputy leader fought back and accused the DUP of “failing to tackle the very clear challenges of institutionalized paramilitarism”.
Mr Farry tweeted that he declined to attend the meeting “on a point of principle” because he “respectfully disagreed with my colleagues on giving the LCC a platform.”
Mr Easton said: “Stephen Farry’s reason for not attending an important committee in Westminster is not at all convincing.
“As the former Minister of Employment and Learning at Stormont, he was in government with Sinn Fein.
“He sat around an executive table that included IRA sentenced people in the form of Martin McGuinness and Caral Ni Chuilin. He does not have the high moral standard to preach.”
Mr Farry called MP DUP’s comments “disappointing”.
He said: “Every now and then any elected representative has to engage with other politicians who may have backgrounds. It may have escaped Alex Easton that the DUP shares a common office with Sinn Fein.
“In the community, I will meet and engage with people who have or have had paramilitary relationships. However, there is a world of difference between this and direct engagement with paramilitary structures or their front organization.
“These organizations are a cancer to our society and continue to exert coercive control over many communities.
“I am concerned about the growth of the LCC platform as a vehicle for loyalist voices, given its clear paramilitary ties, to the detriment of other voices that make themselves heard.
“I think this is corrosive to our democratic process and serves to anchor paramilitary influence in our society rather than see it disappear.”