Blog: Brexit protocol anger bringing end to ceasefires is ‘genuine concern’, says husband of Troubles victim – iNews

A campaigner for victims of the Troubles, whose wife and father-in-law were killed in an IRA bombing, has warned that there should be “genuine concern” about claims that loyalist paramilitaries are reviewing ceasefires.

There are growing fears about the security of peace in Northern Ireland, after leading loyalist groups, including the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), were reported to be re-evaluating truces which underpin the Good Friday Agreement at a meeting last month.

It came days after the Loyalist Communities Council, a legal body representing paramilitary groups, published a letter which said that support for ceasefires was “waning.”

Loyalists are vehemently opposed to the NI Protocol, a post-Brexit trading deal which introduced checks on goods arriving from the UK mainland, in order to protect the EU single market while avoiding a land border on the island of Ireland.

In the eyes of loyalists, who support the continued existence of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom, the protocol creates an unacceptable barrier between Northern Ireland and the rest of the country, aligning it too closely with the Republic.

The DUP, Northern Ireland’s largest unionist party, collapsed the Northern Ireland executive, Stormont, when it walked out in February in protest at the checks, and has refused to restore devolved bodies since elections in May.

In late October, the Belfast Telegraph reported that loyalist paramilitaries called off a terrorist attack on a target in the Republic with just hours to spare, after a late intervention by the UK dismissed the possibility of Dublin’s government forming a joint authority with Stormont as a means of breaking the political stalemate.

Alan McBride’s wife, Sharon, 29, and her father, Desmond Frizzell, were killed on 23 October, 1993, after two IRA men entered the family chip shop on the Shankhill Road carrying a bomb. The device exploded inside, claiming the lives of nine people in total and injuring 60 others.

Alan McBride, whose wife and father-in-law died during the Troubles (Photo: Supplied)Alan McBride, whose wife and father-in-law died during the Troubles (Photo: Supplied)
Alan McBride, whose wife and father-in-law died during the Troubles (Photo: Supplied)

Mr McBride, who still lives in Belfast, now manages Wave Trauma Centre, a Northern Irish charity providing care and support to victims of the Troubles.

He told i: “Absolutely, there should be genuine concern. Nobody wants to see these terrorists back on the streets. So, it’s something we need to be mindful of. It’s extremely important to me that we protect the Good Friday Agreement. But I don’t think you should ever give in to terror, or the threat of violence.”

Loyalist ceasefires date back to 1994, when the Combined Loyalist Military Command, representing groups including the UVF and UDA, announced a cessation of military operations, allowing them to enter the peace process which ultimately led to the Good Friday Agreement four years later.

But their commitment to non-violence has appeared to weaken over recent months, amid growing tensions over the protocol.

In March, a bomb hoax linked to the UVF forced Simon Coveney, Ireland’s Foreign Minister, to abandon a peace-building talk in Belfast, at which Mr McBride was also due to speak.

“It felt like the bad old days of the past,” Mr McBride said.

“I’ve lived and suffered through the Troubles. My wife was murdered in 1993. I grew up on a loyalist housing estate and my father was in the UDA.

“He couldn’t bring himself to vote for the Good Friday Agreement, as it meant the man who murdered his daughter-in-law would be let out of prison.”

Sean Kelly, a member of the IRA, was convicted of the Shankhill bombing and handed nine life sentences in 1995. After just five years, he was released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

“But I did vote for the [Good Friday] agreement,” Mr McBride added, “in the hope that we would be building a fresh society. And that’s why I was there at the conference with Simon Coveney.”

Mr Coveney returned to Belfast last month to resume his speech, in which he described March’s hoax as a “futile, cowardly exercise in community control.”

Briefing the BBC, a senior security source in the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said the force does not believe loyalists will break their ceasefires based on its latest assessment, which involved input from MI5.

Nonetheless, the PNSI acknowledges that tensions within the loyalist community are on the rise. “Our antenna is up and we are pro-actively monitoring things,” the BBC’s source said.

Protocol gridlock

Disagreement over the protocol has led to the breakdown of Northern Ireland’s devolved government.

Following months of tension, Stormont fell apart in February, when DUP First Minister, Paul Givan, resigned in protest of the measure after just eight months in the role.

The DUP has continued to refuse to engage in power-sharing, a precondition of Stormont’s functioning, since Sinn Fein, which supports a united Ireland, emerged as the largest party for the first time ever in May’s Assembly election.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the DUP’s leader, reiterated last month that the Protocol is “incompatible with the restoration of devolved government in Northern Ireland.”

The UK Government has vowed to secure changes to the protocol, either by a negotiated compromise with the EU or through controversial domestic legislation – the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill – which would empower ministers to scrap the arrangements without the approval of Brussels.

Despite a positive atmosphere around recent UK-EU talks, the two sides remain some way off a deal.

After the DUP once again refused to support the nominations for a new speaker to enable the legislature to get up and running, Chris Heaton-Harris, Northern Ireland Secretary, confirmed that a new election for the devolved executive would be called in the coming months.

“The protocol has caused difficulties, there’s no doubt about that,” Mr McBride said. “To what extent those difficulties are real or imagined is for people to work out for themselves.”

In Mr McBride’s view, the protocol offers unique economic advantages to Northern Ireland, allowing it to remain in the UK while also benefiting from frictionless trade with the EU.

“I just wish, for once in their lives, people would sit down and have a look at what’s best for this place going forward economically. The protocol gives us a unique opportunity. Scotland would give their left arm to be in the position Northern Ireland is.

“We’re the only part of the UK to share a land border with the European Union. Think of all the companies that could relocate here to benefit.

“We already diverge from the rest of the UK on issues like abortion and same sex marriage,” he added. “If it means we’re slightly different from England, Scotland and Wales then so be it, we’ll still be part of the UK.”

At their recent G20 meeting, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak promised Joe Biden that a deal will be reached with the EU over the Protocol by the time of the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday agreement in 2023.

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