DUP politicians have been condemned for again talking up the potential for loyalist violence against new port regulations whilst engaging in political stunts to defeat what they describe as the ‘Irish Sea border’.
The checks at Larne and Belfast ports are the result of a deal, known as the Irish protocol, to prevent the return of a hard border through the island of Ireland. It accords the north of Ireland a special status with the EU after Brexit.
East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson is the latest senior DUP figure to suggest loyalist violence could follow if the new checks on imported goods continue.
Wilson said the “real danger is that frustration and anger will be channelled through violence against easily identified targets”, he claimed. He said loyalist paramilitary groups would use violence – “if it is seen that political engagement does not work”.
The comments echo other remarks by MP Ian Paisley Jr and Stormont Minister Edwin Poots and are in line with aggressive messages from loyalist paramilitary spokespersons.
Aontú councillor for Derry, Emmet Doyle, blasted what he described as the “flagrant” conduct of the DUP.
“The North of Ireland protocol was the agreed legal framework to allow for Brexit – which the DUP were so enthusiastic for – and ensure no hard border returned to the island of Ireland,” he said.
“The DUP backed Brexit and were happy to suffer the carnage of a No Deal Brexit, to the detriment of the people of the north. Now that they have been outflanked and their obstructionist politics have been found wanting, the Unionists are now beating the drum of loyalist violence.”
There have also been political threats. Dormer DUP leader and First Minister Peter Robinson suggested his party could collapse the Stormont political institutions in protest at how Brexit is being implemented.
And attempts by the DUP to sabotage the agreement via Stormont have been condemned by as “political stunts”.
Sinn Féin’s Caoimhe Archibald blasted the DUP’s Economy Minister Diane Dodds after she sought to block north-south activities related to the protocol.
“It is quite clear that Brexiteers argued for Brexit on the basis of fantasies and mistruths, ignoring the concerns and fears expressed by businesses, farmers and traders,” said Ms Archibald.
She said the protocol “gives protection for the north from the worst excesses of Brexit, protects the Good Friday Agreement, north-south cooperation and the all-island economy and provides continuing free access for businesses in the north to the 450 million consumers in the European Union.
“The majority of businesses here want practical solutions to make the protocol work in order to take advantage of the protections of the protocol.
“It’s time that the Economy Minister ended the silly political stunts and started using the special status the protocol gives us to attract jobs and investment.”
However, some unionists, including the Ulster Unionist Party, appear ready to accept an easing of the bureaucracy caused by Brexit.
“One of the things we should do is be looking at everything we can do to minimise what’s happening right now,” said UUP leader Steve Aiken. “Let’s put Northern Ireland first, because that’s where the real impact is – it’s in our consumers, it’s in our agri-business.”
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said the DUP need to “deal with the reality” of Brexit and that the “sabre rattling” of recent weeks needs to stop.
“Teething problems can and should be resolved bilaterally through the Joint Committee and through the re-orientating of the economy and supply chains,” she said.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said “the protocol is here to stay” and noted that its considerable advantages to the Six County economy have not yet been recognised.
“We need to be honest that if we fully use the opportunities of the protocol, it could allow us to attract substantial numbers of jobs in the next few years,” he said.