A loyalist ceasefire in the North is to be recognised, the Northern Secretary said today.
Pressure mounted on the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and Red Hand Commando (RHC) to destroy arms after Shaun Woodward said he was despecifying the paramilitary group.
The British government ceased to recognise the UVF’s peace pledge in September 2005 following a feud with a rival grouping.
However, dissident republican group Óglaigh na hÉireann (ONH) has been proscribed after being found to be involved in terrorism.
Mr Woodward said: “Under legislation I am obliged to review the status of all specified and other paramilitary organisations and I have today laid an order before Parliament seeking approval to de-specify the UVF and RHC.
“Their statement of last May committed the organisation to assuming a non-military civilianised role. Government undertook to review the position at that time and we have now taken a careful look at the organisation’s position.
“In the light of this and in acknowledgement of their commitment and additional factors, I have therefore concluded that there are sufficient grounds to de-specify the UVF/RHC.”
There are no prisoners who offended before the April 1998 Good Friday Agreement peace accord eligible for early release because of the decision.
The UVF has come under pressure to decommission its weapons.
It said last May that it was putting its arms beyond reach – but not handing them over.
Alliance Party Assembly member Stephen Farry said: “It must not be overlooked that the UVF have not decommissioned their weapons, and have ruled out dealing with their weapons in an open and transparent manner through the offices of the Decommissioning Commission.
“It is not sufficient for the UVF to manage these weapons on their own terms. Their continued existence poses an ongoing danger and threat.”
In September 2005 the Northern Office said it would no longer recognise its ceasefire after it was involved in running battles with the rival Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF).
Loyalists clashed with police following the re-routing of an Orange Order parade in Whiterock, west Belfast, that month.
The UVF had also been linked to four recent murders, related to its feud with the LVF.
Leader of the Progressive Unionist Party Dawn Purvis, with political links to the UVF, welcomed today’s announcement.
“This is a recognition of the work carried out and progress made since the statement of intent of May last year,” she said.
“This is further evidence of Northern Ireland’s strides towards normality.”
The Independent Monitoring Commission has blamed Óglaigh na h’Éireann for the murder Andrew Burns, 27, of Strabane, Co Tyrone, in February.
The organisation, which reports on paramilitary activity, said Strabane members of the specified dissident republican group were likely to have been responsible for his murder.
It reported that he had been a fellow recruit. His body was found with gunshot wounds near a church in Doneyloop, Co Donegal.
Nationalist SDLP MLA Alban Maginnis said the UVF would be judged on its activities.
“There must be complete and verifiable disposal of all weapons, the ending of all criminality and the dismantling of the command structures and organisation,” he said.