Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness has given a qualified welcome to the decision by the largest faction of the unionist paramilitary UDA to “stand down”.
The North’s Deputy First Minister insisted the UDA must now prove its pledge to end all criminality and paramilitarism is genuine.
“I am prepared to welcome it up to a point,” he said. “The fine words used yesterday have to be matched by deeds or more appropriately by a lack of deeds.
“[The UDA] has been involved in drug dealing, in other criminal activities, in racist attacks on newcomers to our community. All that will have to be stopped.
“They need to recognise that we are in a whole new world where the vast majority of the community want to see politics work and want to see political decisions taken which benefit their lives.”
The UDA announcement at a Remembrance Day service in the Sandy Row area of Belfast on Sunday said that the group was standing down its murder gangs, the so-called ‘Ulster Freedom Fighters’.
The statement also said it would put its arms “beyond use” -- but questions were immediately raised over the credibility of the claim as the group has not yet entered the arms decommissioning process.
Republican Sinn Fein were sceptical about the alleged arms move, which they said was being “masterminded by the British military forces who were responsible for arming the Loyalist murder gangs in the first place”.
Republican Sinn Fein spokemsan, Joe Lynch of Limerick, said that the links between the British and the Loyalist gangs have yet to be publicly uncovered.
“What is known so far makes it clear that the British set up and armed the Loyalists with weapons from South Africa, he said. The extent of collusion between the British military and intelligence services and the Loyalist murder gangs is only now emerging with the passage of time but the real level of co-operation is still being hidden because of the political situation.
“While the so called commanders of the UDA are now strutting around with the air of self important puppets, the real master-minds remain hidden inthe ranks of the British military.
“The victims of the British inspired Loyalist gangs are men and women like Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson and many other Nationalists, who worked tirelessly on behalf of the Nationalist people who came into contact with the police.
“It is these victims who should be recalled today when the UDA claim they are putting their weapons beyond use.”
The statement was welcomed by 26-County Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, British Secretary Shaun Woodward and other politicians.
Meanwhile, there is growing concern as to the future intentions of its more militant south-east Antrim faction of the UDA.
In a statement read at a commemoration in the hardline Rathcoole estate in north Belfast. the group reiterated plans to continue as a separate entity.
“Our war is not yet over, dissident republicans continue to plan attacks on the law abiding people of Northern Ireland, as a direct result of the IMC dismissing these so called rogue republicans, they attacked a PSNI officer in Londonderry,” a spokesperson said.
“We stand alone because that is the only way we can protect our members from the evils within Loyalism. If we are ever to leave the paramilitary stage, you the membership of south-east Antrim will decide on that or any other such issue.”