Northern Ireland

General Election: Loyalists warn unionists not to vote Alliance

Loyalist mural Image copyright Pacemaker Press
Image caption The Loyalist Communities Council has the backing of the three main loyalist paramilitary organisations, the UDA, the UVF and the Red Hand Commando

An umbrella group which has the backing of the three main loyalist paramilitary organisations has warned unionists not to vote for the Alliance party.

The Loyalist Communities Council (LCC) was launched in 2015.

In a statement, it said that "any unionist who votes for the Alliance Party is driving a nail into the coffin of the union".

The Alliance Party has strongly rebuked the LCC position, calling the statement "absurd".

The loyalist community council has the backing of the Ulster Defence Association, the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Red Hand Commando.

The LCC also said no party has done "more to undermine the Britishness of Northern Ireland, and foment community mistrust and division than the Alliance Party".

It called for a maximum turnout by unionist voters and endorsed four specific candidates.

They are Ulster Unionist Tom Elliott in Fermanagh and South Tyrone, the DUP's Nigel Dodds in North Belfast, the DUP's Gavin Robinson in East Belfast and the DUP's Emma Little Pengelly in South Belfast.

In the first two constituencies, the candidates mentioned are the only unionists running, but in the other two seats the DUP faces competition from the Ulster Unionists.

Alliance 'satisfied'

In a statement, the Alliance Party said: "In sharp contrast to the DUP, who appear content to accept the endorsement of paramilitaries, Alliance is satisfied to accept their rejection of our principled and consistent stand for the rule of law and against all terrorism.

"This absurd statement shows not only the dearth of political analysis within loyalist paramilitaries at this time, but highlights clearly which parties are really willing to take on and challenge paramilitaries, and which are happier to chase and foster their support."

Image caption The Loyalist Communities Council was launched in 2015 with the assistance of Tony Blair's former Chief of Staff Jonathan Powell

In Monday night's UTV election debate, both Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill and Alliance's Naomi Long challenged the DUP's Nigel Dodds to reject the endorsement of a group linked to loyalist paramilitaries.

Mr Dodds replied that his party had always opposed paramilitarism.

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback programme on Tuesday, the DUP's Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said: "I do not seek, nor does the DUP seek the support or endorsement of any paramilitary organisation, and we reject any such endorsement."

The Ulster Unionist Party leader, Robin Swann, said: "The Ulster Unionist Party is a party of law and order.

"We have not asked for the support of paramilitary organisations nor do we want the backing of organisations still engaged in paramilitary or criminal activity."

On social media, former Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt has clarified that he has not asked for and does not accept the LCC's statement of support.

Mr Nesbitt was not one of the candidates mentioned in the group's election statement.

Tony Blair's former chief of staff Jonathan Powell played a part in setting up the LCC.

Mr Powell described the formation of the council as the "last best chance" to include loyalists left behind by the peace process.

For a complete list of candidates standing in the general election on Thursday 8 June, click here.

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