The Ulster Defence Association was challenged tonight to guarantee their guns have fallen silent forever.
Even though the loyalists have killed several people, including some of their own, since the first truce was declared 10 years ago, the British government has given them a new chance to prove their war is over.
Doubting nationalist politicians also called on them to show their assurances to the Secretary of State Paul Murphy were genuine.
With security chiefs aware that Northern Ireland’s biggest loyalist paramilitary organisation is running a multi-million pound drugs and racketeering industry, Mr Murphy knows he is taking a chance.
But he said: “I am persuaded that UDA is now prepared to go down a different road, moving away from its paramilitary past.”
The Independent Monitoring Commission terrorist watchdog’s latest report blamed the UDA for running organised crime rackets and paramilitary shootings.
But even though the organisation is regarded as nakedly sectarian by Catholics, its representatives claim they want to end all violence.
With loyalists desperate to become more involved in the political process, contacts with the Government have been intensified.
Earlier this month Mr Murphy held talks with members of the UDA’s inner council, including Andre Shoukri and Jackie McDonald.
That meeting gave the Northern Secretary enough confidence to make his bold move and give the UDA another opportunity, three years after his predecessor John Reid declared its ceasefire obsolete.
A major announcement from the paramilitary group is expected in return for the British government recognition, which takes effect from midnight on Sunday.
“My decision, reached only after the most careful consideration, is based on a number of factors, in line with the legislation,” Mr Murphy said.
“They include the UDA’s reaffirmation in February this year of its Gregg Initiative, when it re-stated its commitment to its ceasefire; the organisation’s generally constructive approach during this year’s marching season; and some diminution in paramilitary activity by its members over the past six months, as reflected in the IMC’s recent report.
“But as that report also makes clear, the UDA continues to be involved in a range of unacceptable activities which must be brought to an end.”
He also paid tribute to the “positive political engagement” by the UDA’s advisers in the Ulster Political Research Group.
Fearing UDA victims’ relatives may be dismayed by the move, Mr Murphy stressed their suffering had not been forgotten.
He warned that his decision to de-specify the organisation would not stop the authorities from hunting down any criminals.
Mr Murphy added: “I will continue to judge them not just by their words but by their deeds. The onus is now on the UDA/UFF to continue to show its good faith.”
The IMC report also noted the organisation’s leadership, like the Provisional IRA, had been trying to keep peace on the streets during the tense summer Protestant marching season this year.
Yet its pedigree of murder and violence, even in the years since its ceasefire was first declared in 1994, has left many sceptical.
In February 2003, the organisation drove supporters of notorious loyalist Johnny “Mad Dog” Adair from their lower Shankill power base following a bitter feud within the organisation.
During the feud, UDA brigadier John Gregg was shot dead at Belfast docks in February 2003 after he returned from a Glasgow Rangers match.
Sinn Féin’s policing and justice spokesman, North Belfast MLA Gerry Kelly, remained suspicious of the terror group’s intentions.
He said: “The only test that the UDA will be judged against is a genuine end to its campaign of attack and intimidation against the ethnic and nationalist sections of our community.”
Mark Durkan, leader of the SDLP, also expressed scepticism and deep caution about the decision to recognise the UDA ceasefire.
He said: “The Secretary of State may recognise the UDA ceasefire but nationalists and ethnic minorities on the ground certainly don’t. Nor will a lot of unionists either.
“People will therefore judge the UDA not on what the Secretary of State says, but on what the UDA does – and stops doing – in our communities.”