Protocol battle | 

Loyalist fury as communities set to miss out on £300m peace funding over Sea Border protest

Sea Border protest scuppers EU grant aid... because it’s doled out by Irish government

Loyalist Communities Council members, from left, Jim Wilson, Winston Irvine, David Campbell and Jackie McDonald

Richard Sullivan

Loyalist communities are set to miss out on their slice of £300 million EU peace funding over their protest against the Irish Sea border.

The EU has drawn down hundreds of millions of pounds, grant aid that has been earmarked for community projects in the border counties and loyalist and republican areas in the north.

Now that the UK has left the EU the aid has been allocated for dispersal to the Irish government.

For decades community groups in the North have been awarded financial support by the Irish government, a large portion of which has been resourced by the EU.

But the ongoing protest campaign against the Protocol has placed a huge question mark over the future viability of schemes that rely on peace funding from Brussels.

Last week’s statement from the EU that the UK should construct permanent border posts at Northern ports drew an angry response from the Loyalist Communities Council – an umbrella group representing the UVF, UDA and Red Hand Commando.

The group described as “ominous” the prospect of border posts on British territory overseen by the EU.

“It is clear the European Commission has still not grasped the essential problem that they have created,” they said.

“And that is that the imposition of the Protocol has breached the core of the Belfast Agreement. Their statement that every proposal is subject to the precondition that there must be permanent border control posts is unacceptable and would most seriously undermine our peace process.”

The LCC, under the leadership of former Ulster Unionist Party chairman David Campbell, has in the past held talks with Secretary of State Brandon Lewis and UK’s Brexit negotiator Lord Frost but it is understood there is anger at the EU’s failure to engage with them.

They have taken the decision not to accept any funding streamed from Dublin.

Well-placed sources have told the Sunday World the move has caused a rift in loyalist circles.

“I understand the principle,” one community worker who asked to remain anonymous told us.

“But we rely on this funding, we get a significant amount through the Irish government, it is vital money which helps fund job retraining and education projects.

“My fear is that all this will do is further alienate the loyalist community.”

He said in the years following the signing of the Good Friday Agreement relations between loyalist groups including paramilitary organisations and the Dublin government were “good”.

“It was constructive, there was a genuine desire from the Republic to reach out to us, they engaged with us and were more than forthcoming when it came to funding.

“A lot of good work has taken place thanks, in large measure, to financial support through the Republic’s government and now that is being taken away from us.”

He said the LCC decision was taken without consultation with community groups and without recognition of the consequences.

It is understood the EU has allocated £300 million each year for the next three years – none of which will now be spent in loyalist areas.

The money will be spent supporting projects in deprived border areas and schemes in nationalist areas across Northern Ireland.

Dozens of community schemes rely on funding from the government and the EU which has pumped millions into the North since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.

Their commitment to the peace process has been measured with financial support for infrastructure projects, education schemes, and programmes supporting child care, job training, ex-prisoner groups and health awareness.

A senior loyalist source told us the decision was taken because the Republic was no longer seen as a “good neighbour”.

“We feel we have been stabbed in the back, the imposition of the sea border undermines our position as part of the United Kingdom and we can’t tolerate that.

“The loyalist community will not be pushed around.”

Asked about the prospect of community projects being shut down he said: “So be it.”

A number of former high-profile paramilitary figures are employed in community groups – people such as UVF commander Winston ‘Winky’ Irvine and in the past UDA chief Jackie McDonald.

Our source conceded their goal of having the Protocol scrapped remains “a tall order” and mitigating changes are the most realistic ambition.

He also played down the prospect of a violent reaction but insisted the protest movement would continue.

The EU has also made it clear the Protocol is here to stay.

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