British Direct Ruler Shaun Woodward has warned the UDA and UVF the “train is leaving the station” for them to hand in their weapons and commit to the peace process.
According to Mr Woodward, “the legal routes” to arms decommissioning will go sooner rather than later.
Mr Woodward said that the international decommissioning body which has overseen decommissioning would remain for only a limited period. He said that as the North “moves towards a normal society” there was no place for the gun and no place for criminality or paramilitarism.
If the IICD arms body ceases to exist, the unionist paramilitary groups will be treated as criminal organisations. There will be no amnesty for moving arms and weapons could be forensically tested and used as evidence.
So far, the UDA and UVF have kept their weapons and show no signs of changing that position. Meanwhile, unionists have applied pressure for the Provisional IRA to formally scrap its Army Council and any other remaining structures and organisation. It decommissioned the last of its remaining weapons three years ago.
The arms body, headed by General John de Chastelain, was set up in 1997. The government renews the legislation that allows it to operate each February for a 12-month period.
It is being reported that 2009 would be the last time it is renewed, unless the UVF and UDA begin to decommission during that time.
Meanwhile, justice campaigner Raymond McCord has criticised Woodward for formally accepting that the UVF is honouring its ceasefires.
Mr McCord, whose son, also called Raymond, was murdered by the UVF in 1997, said the British government was wrong to “despecify” the organisation last week, which has ramifications for the release of UVF prisoners.
Mr McCord said it was wrong to despecify the UVF when it had not decommissioned any weapon and remained involved in drug dealing, extortion, intimidation and other forms of crime, he said.
“In recent months my two sons were told by a prominent UVF member that they would end up the same as their brother, Raymond. And I am still on a key personal protection scheme because of the threat to my life from the UVF.
“How can that be observing a ceasefire?” asked Mr McCord.
“I want to hear from the UVF that my family and I are under no threat from them, but they refuse to issue such a statement. Shaun Woodward is letting them off far too easily,” he said.