The south-east Antrim ‘brigade’ of the unionist paramilitary UDA has claimed all its members will have stood down within the next five years.
Independent unionist councillor Tommy Kirkham said the organisation was now working towards a new “peaceful” future - but that it needed eight million pounds to do so.
Several hundred hardline unionists from the Antrim area met at the Clarion Hotel in Carrickfergus this week for the unveiling of ‘Beyond Conflict,’ a plan for the future of ‘loyalist’ communities.
The powerful south-east Antrim unit of the UDA, said to have more than 2,300 members, also confirmed that it had totally broken off contact with the mainstream UDA.
Once led by John ‘Grugg’ Gregg, who was murdered by fellow UDA members in 2003, the unit was responsible for some of the most brutal sectarian murders of the conflict.
In recent years, the group shot dead three teenagers in separate attacks, including one Protestant boy mistakenly identified as a Catholic.
Yesterday, however, Mr Kirkham claimed that the UDA’s most deadly unit was now turning its back on violence for good.
“The Ulster Defence Association in south-east Antrim is totally united in our quest to improve our community and move away from all paramilitary activity,” he said.
Beyond Conflict spelled out a list of projects it was seeking, including a job creation centre and a drug rehabilitation centre.
However, Mr Kirkham said the eight million pounds it called for had yet to be secured. He said this was “not a matter of people being bought off”.
“South-east Antrim is a very unique area which merits its own transformation programme. The willingness and the timing is now right,” Mr Kirkham said.
* Meanwhile, a witness who claimed to have passed on advance knowledge og the murder of a second UDA ‘brigader’. Jim Gray, says the PSNI police have still not interviewed her a year after she provided the information.
The witness said she had seen well-known members of the UDA remove weapons from waste ground and take them to a nearby house the day before Gray was gunned down.
The witness phoned police with the information and gave a description of the men, their car the house that they were seen entering.
“Who knows if they had acted at the time they might have been able to stop the murder taking place,” she said. “I tried to do the right thing but sure what good did it do.”
* The family of a Derry man who has been in a coma since an attack on July 16 expressed shock at the Independent Monitoring Commission’s claim that the UDA was responsible.
It has emerged that the PSNI are treating the assault on father-of-one Paul McCauley at a party as sectarian, although his father had said he did not know what the motive was.