Loyalists seek help to make UDA purely political

LOYALISTS urged the British government yesterday to work with them to take the Ulster Defence Association down a purely political path.

Belfast councillor Frank McCoubrey of the Ulster Political Research Group (UPRG) made the appeal following Saturday’s declaration from the UDA of a 12-month ceasefire.

Mr McCoubrey also said the UPRG was willing to enter into talks with the Government about how it could help to steer the UDA away from paramilitarism.

“We are very pleased with the reaction to the UDA, Ulster Freedom Fighters and Ulster Young Militants’ statement,” he said.

“Obviously there is some but I would appeal to those who are sceptical to bear with the UPRG as we work over the next year to steer the association down a political route.

He said the organisations were encouraged by the response of the Government and Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy, but added that the ball was now in the court of the Northern Ireland Office.

“The Ulster Political Research Group is open to talks with the Government if it is genuinely interested in working with us in leading the organisation down the political road.”

The UDA announced a 12-month period of military inactivity to be reviewed every three months. It also confirmed it was appointing a representative to re-engage with Canadian General John de Chastelain’s disarmament commission and announced a major overhaul of its structures, insisting a greater emphasis would be put in developing the Ulster Political Research Group as its public face.

In the wake of the bitter feud within the UDA which led to killing of its South Antrim Brigadier John Gregg, the re-imprisonment of Johnny Adair and the expulsion of his supporters from their west Belfast power base, the association’s chiefs are anxious never to again feature in newspaper headlines.

As part of its rehabilitation, the UDA also denounced drug use and dealing, pledged to do all it could to end sectarian clashes between loyalist communities and their nationalist neighbours in Belfast and elsewhere and to work with Protestant marching organisations to alleviate tensions.

Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy welcomed the statement as: “A positive move in the right direction but one that must result in a permanent end to paramilitary.”

“I welcome the commitment to re-engage with the Decommissioning Body, to work to defuse tension and the recognition of the damage that drug abuse does to the community.

“The communities that have suffered most grievously over the past 30 years and more, are often those which were severely disadvantaged in the first place,” he said.

Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble and loyalist Progressive Unionist Party MLA Billy Hutchinson also welcomed the move. Nationalists were more cautious.

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