The British government has confirmed that its Direct Rule Minister Paul Goggins and PSNI Chief Hugh Orde held talks with leaders of the UDA murder gangs on Monday night.

The UDA rejected an appeal to begin weapons decommissioning.

It is understood those present at Stormont Castle Buildings included Jackie McDonald, the so-called ‘brigadier’ of the UDA in south Belfast, and other members of the UDA’s fractious six-member leadership.

Discussions focussed on the British government’s “window of opportunity” for the UDA to move on weapons decommissioning. In January, special amnesty legislation which allows paramilitaries to decommission without fear of facing arms charges is set to expire.

The UDA’s response to the new appeal to decommission was negative. The organisation claimed that unionist communities did not want decommissioning, and that it needed further financial incentives to support its move away from criminal and sectarian acts.

The British government’s ‘softly, softly’ approach to their former death squads, 14 years after the Provisional IRA announced its ceasefire, has sparked anger from nationalists.

And in an unusual attack, Ken Maginnis, the former unionist MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, described Hugh Orde’s presence at the talks as “unbridled arrogance and patently idiotic”.

“I don’t care which tradition these people come from - disarmament is a political issue and no community should be left feeling that its chief constable and police service is compromised by involvement in a deal,” he said.

It also emerged this week that the PSNI is aware of the location of UDA and UVF arms dumps but is refusing to recover the weapons.

Nationalists have reacted angrily at the revelation amid fears that the weapons could be used at any time.

Admitting the situation existed, Minister Goggins refused to order that the weapons be seized, and instead focussed on decommissioning.

“I think the point is this -- loyalists should decommission,” he said. “They should do it as soon as possible.

“There is in place, of course, legislation that provides an amnesty at the moment, but that legislation is fast running out. It’s very important as we become a more normal society that they hand those weapons in and start leading law-abiding lives in the community.”

He denied there was political pressure on the PSNI to prevent any seizures, despite the news of the Stormont talks.

Sinn Fein’s Alex Maskey said the PSNI’s attitude is “unacceptable and quite shocking”.

“To most people it is very simple -- if you know where these weapons are -- then go and get them.”

He said decommissioning legislation “is no barrier to the PSNI recovering loyalist weaponry”.

“Indeed it is the function of the PSNI to recover these guns,” he added.

“The purpose of these weapons is to attack Catholics and protect organised crime rackets. Indeed, last year in Carrickfergus these very weapons were used to attack the PSNI.”

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