Loyalist groups to swap guns for votes
NORTHERN Ireland’s main Loyalist terror group yesterday declared a 12-month ceasefire and called for a "final settlement" of the Troubles in the province.
The Ulster Defence Association, which has been riven by murderous in-fighting and criminal activity in recent months, said it was stepping back from the brink and attempting to re-engage in politics.
In a statement, the UDA said it was giving its political wing, the Ulster Political Research Group (UPRG), a year to steer the organisation down a diplomatic path.
The UDA said it would no longer have a "public face", adding that it planned to submit a new name to General John de Chastelain at the Independent International Decommissioning Commission.
The terror group said it would stop all military activity - bluntly explained as meaning "no guns" - for a year, although this would be reviewed every three months.
Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy and Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble welcomed the announcement, but a "sceptical" Nationalist community was more guarded.
The UDA described the ceasefire as the John Gregg Initiative, in memory of the South Antrim UDA brigadier gunned down during a Loyalist feud in Belfast earlier this month.
"As from February 21, 2003, all units of the Ulster Freedom Fighters, the Ulster Defence Association and the Ulster Young Militants in mainland Britain and in Northern Ireland have begun to observe a 12-month period of military inactivity," said the statement, which was made in a Belfast hotel by the UPRG on behalf of the UDA.
"This period will be monitored internally every three months to ensure that there is a real and genuine political movement during and after the election of the new assembly in Northern Ireland.
"An agreed, acceptable and equitable final settlement will produce even greater peace and stability within the confines of our beloved Ulster.
"We would urge the Dublin government and the British government to be less dictatorial during any new negotiations."
However, on disarmament, the UDA said it would respond only when the IRA had disarmed fully.
It also urged its members to abandon dealing in drugs, a major source of revenue for Ulster terror gangs, which is said to have been partly behind the feud between mainstream UDA members and Johnny "Mad Dog" Adair’s faction.
Earlier this month, in a victory for the anti-drug camp, members of Adair’s group were forced to flee from Northern Ireland, initially to Scotland, then England and Spain.
The Northern Ireland Secretary urged the UDA to go the extra mile by ending all terrorist activity for good.
Murphy said: "The UDA statement is a positive move in the right direction but one that must result in a permanent end to paramilitary activity in all of its aspects."
Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble said the statement was "a positive and welcome development".
UPRG member Tommy Kirkham said the killing of Gregg - whom he described as a Loyalist icon - had been a turning point.
"It sort of drew a line in the sand as far as Loyalism is concerned," he said.
"Something needed to be done."
Fellow UPRG member and Castlereagh councillor Frankie Gallagher said: "There is blood on everybody’s hands.
"The blood of everybody who has been murdered over these past 30 years, and especially most recent years, is not just on the hands of those who pulled the triggers. It is on the political leaders’ hands, it is on the police force’s hands and it is on the communities’ hands as well."
He added: "What we are trying to do is create an environment where those conditions do not exist."
The Nationalist SDLP leader Mark Durkan gave a "qualified welcome" to the UDA’s announcement.
The Foyle Assembly member said: "If this is about saving face, then people will be sceptical. If it means saving lives, then people will welcome it.
"But while such a respite is welcomed as far as it goes, it still does not go far enough.
"We want to see the removal of the threat at any time and not just time-limited promises from outfits whose words have meant little in the past.
"A qualified ceasefire from a dubious group can only get a qualified welcome from a sceptical community."
THE Ulster Defence Association has a reputation as one of the most ruthless terror groups in Northern Ireland, regularly murdering Catholics, often at random. It also became involved in the drugs trade, prostitution and racketeering.
At its height in 1972, the organisation commanded around 40,000 members, but now has an active membership of only a few hundred in Northern Ireland and Scotland. It was not declared illegal by the government until August 1992 following a sharp rise in sectarian killings.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Wednesday 19 June 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 16 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 12 C to 20 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: East