British Direct Ruler Paul Murphy is to meet representatives of the UDA and other unionist paramilitary organisations next week.
Although the British government does not consider the outlawed UDA to be on a ceasefire, Murphy will meet members of the UDA as part of a delegation of a related group, the "Ulster Political Research Group" (UPRG). He will also meet members of the Progressive Unionist Party, which is linked to the paramilitary UVF.
Mr Murphy said in the British parliament on Wednesday that he was prepared to explore the opportunities for advancing the peace process. Equally, he said all unionist paramilitary actions and criminality must be condemned.
SDLP policing spokesman Alex Attwood said that Mr Murphy engaging with the UDA when it was not on ceasefire and given its criminal and sectarian activities may not "add up" for some people. But there were "times when political risks and risks for peace are taken".
"In doing so, there must be a single strong message to the UDA: 'Either you close down your criminal, paramilitary and sectarian activities or you will be closed down by the full resources of the state and the law'. This is the basis on which to proceed. The message should be tough and simple," added Mr Attwood.
Next week's meeting is not the first between a British Direct Ruler and the UDA in recent years -- both Mo Mowlam and John Reid engaged in such discussions.
Sinn Féin chairman Mr Mitchel McLaughlin described the meetings as “crucial” in the ongoing struggle to make progress in the peace process, said Sinn Féin's Mitchel McLaughlin.
“Sinn Féin has always been willing to engage with representatives of unionism, unfortunately many of the political representatives of unionism continue to shy away from such dialogue,” he said.
“It is important that during this meeting, Mr Murphy makes it clear to the loyalist representatives that on-going attacks on Catholics and ethnic minorities have to end as well as continuing drug dealing and agitation along the interfaces.”