Northern Ireland’s Justice Minister Naomi Long has expressed concern after First Minister Arlene Foster met with representatives of loyalist paramilitaries.
Mrs Foster led a DUP delegation last week to meet with the the Loyalist Communities Council to discuss tensions around the Northern Ireland Protocol.
She previously defended the move, insisting it was important to give a voice to all sections of the loyalist and unionist community.
Sinn Féin MLA Linda Dillon raised the matter in the Stormont Assembly during questions for the Justice Minister, describing it as “inappropriate”.
Ms Long expressed her concern, describing it as a matter for her as a minister “when all ministers in the Executive have signed up to tackling the paramilitarism programme”.
“That programme requires us all to ensure that where we wish to engage with at-risk communities, where we wish to hear the voices of those who may be vulnerable to paramilitary influence, that we do so through the appropriate legal mechanisms, that we don’t give any credence or validity to members of paramilitary organisations, irrespective of the community from which they emerge,” she told MLAs.
“I do believe that by giving a platform to people who are still in prescribed organisations or who claim to be, I think that is a matter of concern and sends out a worrying message to those in many parts of our community who still live under the coercive control of those same paramilitary organisations.”
Ms Long added: “I would appeal to all members of this house… to actually do work with the Department of Justice and right across the community to ensure that no paramilitary organisations have any influence whatsoever in the business either of this House, or in the business of running our communities outside.”