The Northern Justice Minister condemned the “appalling” threat from loyalist paramilitaries that Irish government ministers and officials are no longer welcome in the region.
Speaking at the Stormont Assembly on Monday, Naomi Long said comments made last week by the Loyalist Communities Council (LCC) – a coordinating group representing the views of the UDA, UVF and of the Red Hand Commando – were “outstanding”.
“I absolutely condemn such remarks,” said the Alliance leader.
“I think they create a scary and unnecessary atmosphere and I think such threats, even thinly veiled, have no place in Northern Ireland and never have.”
Ms Long said it is important to recognize that Irish government ministers have an “important role to play” in cross-border cooperation.
They are also members of the British-Irish Council, which “is an important part of the work we do as executive ministers,” she added.
“It is frankly remarkable to me that an unelected group dares to suggest that elected officials, from this jurisdiction or any other, are not welcome here,” Ms. Long said.
“The only thing that is unwelcome in Northern Ireland is the continued influence of the paramilitaries on our communities.”
Ms Long said she agreed with SDLP Mid Ulster MP Patsy McGlone that some organizations represented by the LCC had been described by PSNI police chiefs as “organized crime groups”.
“Yes it does, and we know the paramilitary gangs exploit and harm people,” she added.
“They attack the most vulnerable in our society. They may wish to present themselves as advocates for their community, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. “
Ms Long said it was incumbent on all political leaders to ensure that these groups were not legitimized, and called for a collaborative approach to tackle the “persistent and pervasive nature of the paramilitary and organized crime structures” .
Following Edwin Poots’ resignation as DUP leader last week amid the party’s internal fury over his decision to appoint a prime minister after the UK government pledged to introduce legislation on the Irish language, the LCC urged whoever will become its successor to end the power-sharing if necessary to “stop the constant flow of concessions to Sinn Féin”.
The LCC also accused the Irish government of misleading the EU about the Northern Ireland Protocol.
“The continued denials and insulting comments by the Irish government prove how much it has misled European leaders about the views of the people of Northern Ireland and the guarantees for the two communities contained in the agreement from Belfast, ”he said.
“Until they accept and repair the damage they have caused, ministers and government officials are no longer welcome in Northern Ireland.
Speaking on Radio Ulster on Monday, LCC spokesman David Campbell said Mr Poots should have “simply withdrawn” from talks with UK Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Brandon Lewis, when the latter said Westminster would pass Irish language legislation if not passed. Stormont.
Mr Campbell called the UK government’s decision “clearly a gross insult not only to [Mr Poots] as leader of the DUP but to unionism as a whole ”.
Pending the appointment of DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson as party leader, Mr Campbell said he had to ‘end the concession train’ to win back votes, but faced a ‘tough struggle “.
Mr Campbell said “maximum leverage” should be exercised “by tearing down institutions unless there is a movement on protocol and the Irish language”.
” I talked to [Mr Donaldson] at length and I am convinced that it is on exactly the same wavelength, that the protocol has to go in its current form and if anything supersedes it, it has to be consistent with the principles of consent of the Belfast Agreement to satisfy both communities here, ”he said.
“We cannot have a protocol that destroys our position in the UK, and it is the primary responsibility of any union leader, protecting Northern Ireland’s position in the union.”