30 July 2005

Loyalists to hold internal meetings

Belfast Telegraph

UDA may try to buy concessions

By Brian Hutton
30 July 2005

UVF mural on the Newtownards Road in east Belfast - BBC

THE IRA statement that it is to end its 36-year campaign of violence is being treated as a "watching brief" by the two main loyalist paramilitary groups - the UDA and the UVF.

Both organisations will hold internal meetings in the coming days to discuss strategy in light of the development.

The UVF has already begun discussions on its future - similar to the internal IRA talks prior to its standing down - but these are on hold because of its deepening feud with the LVF.

A source close to the UVF told the Belfast Telegraph that "a high-level round of consultations" between the leadership and grass-roots members began 12 months ago.

The source said: "The UVF couldn't make a comprehensive decision on its future due to the activities of the LVF.

"I'd say in a few months time that the LVF won't be there anymore and once this problem has been dealt with the consultations will begin again."

He added: "It was decided that if [the IRA] were going to go away the UVF were going to deal with some people before they went away too."

Some elements within the UVF are trying to nurture community development and politics at a grass roots level.

Although discussions have yet to be concluded it is believed that in the event of "active service units" standing down the leadership would favour retaining some sort of civilian organisation.

One thing that seems certain from the talks to date is that verifiable decommissioning is a non-starter.

"It's immaterial to what the IRA do because there is still a threat from other militant republicans.

"The arms would be put in the ground and would be left there in the same way the Official IRA did."

The UDA is understood to be less steadfast on weapons but movement would be unlikely in the absence of UVF commitments. It may try to use decommissioning to 'buy' concessions, as it believes the IRA has done.

"If there's a price to be had for those guns then it's time for the government to take onboard loyalism's concerns," said Davy Nicholl, of the Ulster Political Research Group.

A senior loyalist, close to the LVF, said the group would come together to evaluate and analyse the IRA statement. "If there is no IRA then there is no need for loyalist paramilitaries," he said. "But the problem is that people are in the paramilitary world today because it is their living."

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Peter Hain has warned: "Loyalism will be left behind if it doesn't step back from the self-destruct mode that it is currently engaged in."

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