Billy Hutchinson – Unionism needs to unite in peaceful way over Protocol

Michael McHugh, PA
·3-min read

Unionism needs to unite in a peaceful way over opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol, a senior community activist said.

Billy Hutchinson said the response had to come through politics.

A senior police officer warned last week that discontent over regulatory barriers was growing and said the pandemic may have masked action on the streets.

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A senior police officer warned last week that discontent over regulatory barriers was growing (Rebecca Black/PA)

Mr Hutchinson said: “I do not want to over or under-play the anger.

“It is there and we really need to listen to that anger and we also need to make sure that it is turned into a positive way forward.

“We need to show people who are unionists that unionism is united in every way around this and that the only way forward is by using political means.

“If people need to protest then we need to make sure it is done in a peaceful way so others cannot hijack it.”

Stormont ministers have been engaged in discussions with their Government counterparts in London around easing bottlenecks in trade.

Northern Ireland is continuing to follow the EU’s rules on trade following Brexit to keep the free-flowing Irish land border open.

That has caused extra paperwork at the ports on trade from the rest of the UK to Northern Ireland and has affected goods including soil and plants as well as the transit of pets.

Supermarket shelves were emptied of some products at the start of the year as suppliers in Great Britain delayed lorryloads to assess the changes.

The haulage industry has been left struggling for orders but its representatives have accepted progress has been made in some areas.

Last week the Ulster Unionists suggested Brexit red tape could hinder the movement of military equipment within the UK.

Mr Hutchinson said: “There is a very definite anger out there.

“No matter where you live, in a village or a town or a city, that anger is there and a lot of it is based around the fact that they did not understand what was happening when they voted for Brexit.

“They do feel anger at people not explaining this to them.

“It is definitely out there, we can see it.”

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The haulage industry has been left struggling for orders (Liam McBurney/PA)

Mr Hutchinson is a Belfast City Council councillor representing the Greater Shankill Road area, with deep roots in the loyalist community.

He said: “This must be a decision and a way forward that comes from political unionism.

“Political unionism needs to stand up and say this is what we need to do.

“We need to use the political process to deal with this anger.”

More graffiti as well as low-level intelligence and social media monitoring have provided early pointers to unionist discontent, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has said.

Another unionist politician, Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) leader Jim Allister, last week called for co-operation with the Republic of Ireland to be frozen and work implementing the Protocol to be abandoned.