UDA demand pay-off millions

The British government has been accused of allowing the UDA to “stick up” taxpayers after engaging the unionist paramilitary group in talks for funds to “retrain” its murder gangs.

The North’s political development minister yesterday met political representatives of the UDA as Sinn Féin and SDLP politicians accused the British government of pandering to blackmail threats.

Members of the Ulster Political Research Group (UPRG), which provides political advice to the UDA, held talks with David Hanson at Stormont over a proposed offer of up to 30 million pounds to “go away”

The meeting follows on recent separate UDA meetings with 26-County Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and British Direct Ruler Peter Hain.

In Belfast yesterday, Mr Hain claimed there had been a “sea change” in the thinking of loyalist representatives “and I want to encourage that”.

We are not talking about particular sums of money at the moment. We are talking about switching from paramilitarism towards democracy, switching from negativism towards engagement. And that is proceeding very encouragingly,” he said.

“The UDA brigadiers have moved up from extorting from sweetie shops and building sites to sticking up the treasury,” said SDLP MLA John Dallat.

“The UDA has not ceased paramilitary activity, has not got out of organised crime and it should not be rewarded. The latest reports suggest that it has no intention of decommissioning. Are we to be faced with the prospect of brigadiers with an Armalite in one hand and a big cheque from the Department of Social Development in the other,” added Mr Dallat.

Sinn Féin Assembly member Cathy Stanton said that Mr Hanson must “stop offering unionist paramilitaries sweeteners and instead insist that they end their campaign of racist and sectarian attacks”.

“David Hanson needs to state in very clear and simple terms to the UDA that their violent campaign against Catholics and ethnic minorities has to end. He must make it clear that the drug dealing and associated criminality have to end and that the UDA and other unionist paramilitaries engage with the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning,” he added.

“Public money should only ever be allocated on the basis of need, not political expediency, which seems to have been the benchmark for David Hanson for some time,” said Ms Stanton.

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© 2006 Irish Republican News