Police warn politicians about loyalist paramilitary threats

By Julian O'Neill
BBC News NI Home Affairs Correspondent

image copyrightPacemaker
image captionThe politicians had condemned the south-east Antrim UDA for threats made last week against journalists

The police have warned four politicians they are under threat from loyalist paramilitaries.

Ulster Unionists Steve Aiken and Doug Beattie, as well as Patsy McGlone of the SDLP and Alliance's Stephen Farry have been visited by officers within the past 24 hours.

It is understood the threats come from the south-east Antrim UDA.

Mr Farry, the MP for North Down, tweeted: "None of us will be deterred in any way from defending freedom of the press and standing up to paramilitaries."

Mr McGlone, the Assembly's deputy speaker, said: "I can assure those responsible I will not be silenced, censored or intimidated by faceless thugs."

One source said the threats were not seen as "massively severe."

'Criminal gangs'

On Monday evening, Sinn Féin claimed that police had made Mid Ulster MLA Linda Dillon aware of a threat against her by loyalists.

Her party colleague, North Belfast MLA Gerry Kelly, said the threats would not deter her.

"Everyone should be free to carry out their business free from threats, fear or intimidation and that includes elected representatives and journalists," he said.

"The criminal gangs responsible for these threats should immediately withdraw them," he added.

The south-east Antrim Ulster Defence Association is a break-away faction, heavily engaged in crimes such as drug-dealing.

The two newspapers have written extensively about its activities.

Combating the group - which operates between Larne and north Belfast - is a priority for the PSNI and the National Crime Agency (NCA).

On Friday, Amnesty International UK called for the threats against the journalists to be lifted immediately.

"Such threats are a disgusting attempt to intimidate journalists from doing their jobs, and constitute an attack on freedom of the press in Northern Ireland. We send our solidarity to the journalists concerned," said Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International's Northern Ireland programme director.

The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) also condemned the threats.

UUP leader Steve Aiken said "these threats are not normal and they should not be treated as if they are".

"Threats against politicians and journalists by crime gangs are nothing less than fascism - it wouldn't be tolerated in Glasgow, Manchester or London, and it shouldn't be tolerated here," he said.

UUP MLA Doug Beattie said: "What does concern me is that criminal gangs should feel confident enough to threaten journalists and politicians, and this is a testament to just how little they fear the criminal justice system in this country."

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