UDA to remain armed

A leader of the unionist paramilitary UDA has ruled out weapons decommissioning, claiming loyalists still “feel threatened”.

The UDA, the largest unionist paramilitary group, recently received a grant of over one million pounds sterling from the British government, despite claims by the PSNI police that the group was heavily involved in extortion and other crimes. The UDA has increasingly adhered to a ceasefire, first declared in 1994.

UDA commander Jackie McDonald predicted direct talks with republicans were inevitable if the North’s new, devolved government succeeds.

McDonald, one of the most powerful and influential men in the UDA, shook hands with PSNI Chief Hugh Orde at a conference in Belfast to examine the problem of unionist paramilitarism.

Even though the IRA has abandoned its guns and called off its armed campaign, McDonald said the people he represents still don’t feel safe.

He said: “If there’s political stability, and there still isn’t, and the loyalist people don’t feel threatened, it’s an inevitability in a future normal society that there’s no need for weapons.

“It (decommissioning) is a distinct possibility, but the way things stand at the moment, it’s still not on the radar.”

The loyalist chief, who runs the organisation’s South Belfast Brigade and sits on its inner council, said: “The British and Irish Governments basically bought the weapons off the IRA at the end of the day.

“Until loyalism is afforded the same respect and dialogue about their future, then the loyalist people still do feel threatened and still do feel left out.”

Hugh Orde agreed UDA decommissioning would not happen soon.

“The notion that this will stop overnight is farcical,” he said. “People within the loyalist community want more responsibility in making the change. We either recognise that for what it is or we criticise it.

The SDLP has strongly criticised British efforts to reward the UDA’s political initiatives, including the recent payment.

North Belfast Assembly member Alban Maginness said British officials “have been trying to convince people that there is a ‘good’ UDA deserving of support and a ‘bad’ UDA which needs to be contained.

“This is a fairy story.”

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