By Alan Erwin
POLITICAL representatives of the loyalist Ulster Defence Association yesterday ruled out any imminent moves on disarmament.
It followed talks in Belfast between President Mary McAleese’s husband and senior members of the paramilitary organisation.
President McAleese met Jackie McDonald, Ihab Shoukri and Billy McFarland at a hotel in the south of the city on Wednesday.
The meeting has heightened speculation that the UDA, Northern Ireland’s biggest loyalist paramilitary organisation, may be set to make a major decommissioning gesture or even consider disbanding.
The British and Irish Governments are thought to be putting together a package of proposals that could entice its leadership into making significant moves on the back of the IRA’s decision last year to put its arms beyond use and end its campaign of violence.
But Tommy Kirkham of the Ulster Political Research Group, which advises the UDA, insisted the meeting with Mr McAleese was not the prelude to an imminent announcement.
He said: "Its just part of our ongoing process and wasn’t a big deal.
"The guy was here in Belfast and asked us over for a cup of coffee. It certainly wasn’t a clandestine meeting. If it had been, we would have met in a back room somewhere."
Mr McAleese has met senior UDA representatives in the past, and Mr Kirkham claimed their latest encounter was about building on that relationship.
But he added: "The organisation has entered into a process of engagement.
"As to who that is with is confidential until we decide to disclose it."