Irish Republican News · October 10, 2007
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Death threat over UDA funds

The North’s Social Development minister Margaret Ritchie has received a death threat days before she was due to withdraw government funding for a group linked to the unionist paramilitary UDA.

On August 10, the SDLP minister warned that she would cut off funding for the UDA’s so-called ‘Conflict Transformation Initiative’ unless the group began decommisioning its weapons within 60 days.

That deadline expired on Tuesday night, although the mainstream UDA had already refused to disarm. The larger UDA group has in recent weeks been involved in serious violence and heavy feuding with a rival breakaway group calling itself ‘Beyond Conflict’ in a number of County Antrim towns.

On Friday a male caller telephoned Mrs Ritchie’s private office in Belfast and warned that she would be killed unless she agreed to hand over the 1.2 million pounds sterling earmarked previously by the British government for the UDA.

On Sunday Mrs Ritchie admitted that she had come under personal and political pressure to drop her decommissioning deadline. However she stopped short of revealing the fact that a threat had been made against her own life just days before.

The funding is now expected to be withdrawn, sources within the nationalist SDLP have said, but a formal announcement is not expected until next week.

This is despite interventions from Northern Secretary Shaun Woodward claiming that significant progress had been made.

Woodward said ‘interlocutors’ had been appointed to discuss UDA decommissioning, but he was quickly accused of attempting to ‘bail out’ the UDA in advance of the deadline. Mr Ford, an Assembly member for South Antrim where the UDA remains particularly strong, called for the SDLP minister to stand her ground.

“This statement cannot be used as a get-out clause for the UDA to get their funding and I would again urge Margaret Ritchie to stick to her deadline,” he said.

“This unhelpful statement from Mr Woodward suggests a lack of respect for the devolved institutions in general and the work of Margaret Ritchie in particular.”

The SDLP opposed the decision to provide the grant aid announced by the British government last March before devolution was restored. The policy is also opposed by PSNI Chief Hugh Orde.

In another intervention junior minister Paul Goggins called for the UDA to liaise with Gen John de Chastelain’s decommissioning body.

Frankie Gallagher, spokesman for the UDA, said neither the statements by Ms Ritchie nor the British government would make any difference.

“This won’t change the UDA. This is not a UDA initiative. It will not disarm the UDA.” He added: “I just wish it hadn’t gone this far.”

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© 2007 Irish Republican News