Ahern to meet loyalists

The Taoiseach Bertie Ahern is due to hold talks tonight with representatives of loyalist paramilitaries.

The Taoiseach Bertie Ahern is due to hold talks tonight with representatives of loyalist paramilitaries.

Mr Ahern will meet the Ulster Political Research Group, which speaks on behalf of the Ulster Defence Association, at an undisclosed location in Dublin.

Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy will also meet the group in the first week of February.

Mr Ahern’s discussions will focus on loyalist concerns about the peace process and a dispute concerning loyalist inmates at Maghaberry Prison, Co Antrim.

The UPRG delegation will comprise Frank McCoubrey, Frankie Gallagher, Tommy Kirkham and Jackie McDonald.

Mr McCoubrey said the agenda for the talks would be open, but of particular concern would be the prisoners issue and the lack of recognition given to the work the UDA was doing in the community.

“These meetings show that people are starting to take us seriously and they will help us put across the concerns felt in loyalist communities,” he said.

“As the political representatives of the largest paramilitary organisation in the province, we are part of the community, we are part of the problem and we are going to have to be part of the solution to that problem.”

Mr Murphy said he would use his meeting with the group to put the message across that pipe bombs and politics do not mix.

“Violence isn’t part of our society any longer, or shouldn’t be part of our society and the trouble is that there is still criminality, there is gangsterism and the one great central message in the Good Friday Agreement was that politics in Northern Ireland had to be democratic and peaceful,” he said.

“That’s the message that loyalism must get during the course of these meetings.”

Northern Ireland security minister Jane Kennedy met a UPRG delegation last week and claimed the UDA could not seriously be considered to be on ceasefire.

She blamed the organisation for recent hoax bombs across Belfast and attacks on prison officers’ homes.

The UDA said the incidents were linked to the situation at Maghaberry where loyalist prisoners campaigning for segregation from republicans were behind serious disturbances.

It claimed republican prisoners have been treated more favourably than loyalists.

The UDA ceasefire has not been recognised since October 2001 when the then Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid declared it over following a series of sectarian pipe bombings and murders.

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