Unionist withdraws from L&H event amidst security concerns

Image Credit: Odin O'Sullivan

Unionist Activist Joel Keys was withdrawn from attending the Literary and Historical Society (L&H) event “Has the Republic Failed Northern Ireland” tonight amid fears of potential violence, following a letter from UCDSU Campaigns & Engagement Officer Darryl Horan, as well as fears of “republican organisations”.

Several security personnel were present for the entirety of the event, despite Keys no longer being in attendance. The L&H did not advertise Keys’ withdrawal over social media.

On Saturday, November 20th Horan sent a letter in his “personal capacity” criticising the decision to invite Keys, stating “it is my view that his inclusion acts to legitimise the sectarian violence of loyalism. Keys’ recent comments demonstrate this”.

The letter, which was read at the beginning of the event, also stated “Joel Keys is not only a member of the LCC but has at times acted as a spokesperson for the organisation ‘warning’ British MPs of violent repercussions if loyalist demands are not met”.

When asked if he had expressed his opinion on Keys’ invitation to anyone else, Horan told The University Observer that he had also spoken to “Just a number of republican [organisations] just informing them that this was happening”. When pushed for more information on which organisations he had contacted, Horan refused to answer, repeatedly stating “Just a number of republican organisations”.

The University Observer also questioned Horan on what he hoped to achieve by contacting these organisations, to which he stated “Nothing in particular”, although he added that “In my mind, if there was to be attendance [from protesters opposed to Keys’ invitation] I would have been happy to be there”.

In May, Keys represented the Loyalist Communities Council (LCC) to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, of the British House of Commons. The LCC is a group that represents, among others, the UVF, UDA and Red Hand Commando. Following criticisms of his appearance before the committee, LCC Chairman David Campbell described Keys as an “LCC Delegate” in a statement.

Speaking to the University Observer, L&H Auditor Rob Fitzpatrick stated “it is untrue that he is a member of that, he has assured us of that through our communications with him”. Fitzpatrick added that “it’s extremely offensive to [imply Keys is involved in loyalist paramilitaries], because a member of his family was brutally murdered by those organisations”.

Fitzpatrick also stated “I think it's incredibly disrespectful that it is the loyalist on the panel that has been targeted and even told to be removed from the panel when there is nothing of loyalist or unionist representation in UCD house debates over the last 8 years, so when there is representation and he is targeted by someone who is supposed to be representing of the student body[sic]”

“There are loyalist students in UCD who are represented by this man. This shows that this individual is not respecting of his constituents who may be of [the] Loyalist community. The accounts that [Horan] makes about [Keys], such as him being in the LCC or violent tendencies, are unfounded and untrue and have nothing to support them”.

When asked by the University Observer if it would have been inappropriate to invite Keys if he were a member of the LCC, Fitzpatrick stated that “the L&H has a respected history of inviting in good and moderate [speakers] in the debates that we do have, and if that were the case that he was as member of the LCC, I think that the L&H would have properly vetted him to the extent or wouldn't have invited him if they thought he was any danger of any significance”. When questioned on Keys’ role as a delegate for the LCC for the Commons sub-committee, Fitzpatrick stated “From communications with Joel Keys,he has told us that he is not a member of the LCC. We believe his word”.

Committee members for the L&H stated that they were not in a position to name organisations which were perceived to be a threat to safety at the event, but highlighted the large number of security personnel as evidence that the threats were credible to the Societies Council.

Joel Keys was contacted for comment, but had not responded by time of publication.