Republicans have expressed concern after talks between the unionist paramilitary UDA and the 26-County Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, in Dublin.
The UDA continues to attack Catholics at random across the North. It was linked to the murder earlier this year of 15-year-old Catholic schoolboy Michael McIlveen in Ballymena.
The delegation arrived in Dublin in a red minibus with blacked-out windows and heavy Garda security amid speculation that the group contained senior UDA figures.
Afterwards, Mr Ahern described the meeting as “positive and focused”.
He said the UDA delegation had briefed him on the group’s conflict transformation initiative in loyalist areas.
“The two governments’ purpose is to protect the benefits of the [Good Friday] Agreement, and loyalism has nothing to fear in this.
“I would reiterate that the constitutional position was settled by the Agreement.
“Relationships have been twisted and blighted on this island for far too long, and everyone has to make an effort to get it right for the future and, in this context, the message of the government was one of partnership, fairness and friendship.”
Commenting after the talks, Sinn Féin TD for Louth Arthur Morgan said that people needed to hear from the UDA that the attacks on Catholics were over, that the drug dealing was over and that they were finally going to engage with the arms decommissioning body.
“The lessons of the past 15 years are clearly that dialogue is the only way forward to resolve differences and advance the peace process. However I do understand the unease that many will feel at the Taoiseach sitting down publicly with the leadership of the UDA while it is without doubt still armed, still active, still involved in sectarian and racist attacks and still up to its neck it drug dealing.
“I hope that the Taoiseach made it very clear to the UDA leadership last night that this sort of activity had to end. I hope he made it clear to the UDA that the ongoing sectarian intimidation of Catholics in areas like Ballymena had to end.
“I hope he made it clear to the UDA that sabre rattling from within loyalism will not deflect the Irish government from the difficult decisions which lie ahead if the DUP continue to block efforts to restore the political institutions.”