A former leader of the Ulster Unionist Party has suggested loyalist paramilitaries could mount attacks against the Dublin government over its efforts to prevent a ‘hard border’ through Ireland.
David Trimble, now a Tory Lord with the title ‘Baron of Lisnagarvey’, made the remarks when discussing the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, in which he was the principal unionist negotiator.
Mr Trimble has claimed loyalist murder gangs could be ‘provoked’ because of Dublin’s response to Britain’s departure from the European Union.
“What is happening now is that people are talking up the issue of Brexit and the Border for the benefit of a different agenda from the Agreement,” he said.
“The one thing that would provoke loyalist paramilitaries is the present Irish government saying silly things about the Border and the constitutional issue.”
Loyalist attacks south of the border have taken place throughout the conflict, usually in collusion with elements of the British state forces.
Trimble claimed Irish officials were “going around Brussels” suggesting the example of Hong Kong as a means of avoiding a hard border, whereby EU customs rules and regulations could continue to apply to the north of Ireland while under British jurisdiction.
As as a modern example of how sovereign British rule can transfer peacefully to another state, Hong Kong is a sensitive topic for unionists.
“Anything that looks remotely like this or is building on that foundation would be extremely dangerous,” Trimble warned.
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin described Trimble’s comments as “a stark illustration of the uncertainty and instability that has been injected into the Northern Ireland political bloodstream by Brexit”, but did not condemn them.
Tanaiste Simon Coveney rejected the statement. He said Dublin was fighting in the Brexit talks to protect the “hard-won peace on the island of Ireland”.
Mr Coveney insisted the EU has reached agreement with the British government guaranteeing avoidance of a hard border and maintaining full alignment North-South in the absence of a Brexit deal. However, Dublin officials remain concerned that the British government is still attempting to fudge the issue, or could renege on its pledges before or after a deal is signed.
Last week, London came up with proposals for a customs “partnership” to collect customs for the EU using technological solutions, as well as a voluntary alignment of regulations on matters such as livestock, food and pharmaceuticals. These remain sketchy and have been described by EU officials as “magical thinking”.
Meanwhile, a Sinn Fein MEP has obtained secret civil service documents outlining “the disastrous consequences” Brexit will have on the north of Ireland.
Martina Anderson called on the civil service to release the documents to the public.
“Despite initial civil service claims that it had no assessments, we have now received more than 30 papers on the impact of Brexit which it had shared with the British government.”
Ms Anderson said the information had to be “dragged” out of the civil service and that it was clear it had no intention of making the documents public.
She added: “It paints a bleak picture and shows that Brexit will have a hugely detrimental impact on these key sectors, jeopardising future growth and potentially creating a real crisis in our health service.”
Hardline republicans have said Brexit should be used to weaken Britain’s hold on the north of Ireland.
In a speech at the end of the Derry 1916 Commemoration Committee parade in Derry, Stephen Murney of Saoradh said the historic republican position was of “England’s difficulty being Ireland’s opportunity”.
“If Brexit can weaken and damage the union, then as republican revolutionaries it is our duty to take advantage of it,” he said. “We the Irish people are best served by independence and to be in control of our own destiny. Irish affairs need to be free from the interference of London and Brussels.”