A meeting between Sinn Fein’s Mayor of Belfast and representatives of the unionist paramilitary UDA took place on Wednesday in a bid to ease nationalist fears following the recent violence.
Following the attacks by the Continuity and Real IRA, there were fears that there could be a loyalist “retaliation”. Both the UDA and UVF have refused to decommission their weapons in recent years, citing the threat from the breakaway IRA groups.
Tom Hartley and fellow Sinn Fein councillor Paul Maskey met Frankie Gallagher and Billy McQuiston of the loyalist Ulster Political Research Group.
Following the meeting Mr Hartley said it was “of crucial importance” to keep lines of communication open at times of unease.
“This was the first meeting of its kind and one that was brought about by the events of the weekend,” he said.
“In many ways it follows on from the decisive leadership shown in recent days by Martin McGuinness and Peter Robinson.
“It was a positive meeting and one in which we were able to gauge the feeling in loyalist communities and likewise to inform them how the mood was among nationalists.
“We were in agreement that this is a time for clear heads and is important that all of us in political leadership redouble our efforts to maintain calm on our streets and see an end to these sorts of futile armed actions,” he said.
Billy Mr McQuiston said the UPRG had used the meeting to reaffirm the message that there would be no “knee-jerk” reaction from the UDA following the shootings.
“The loyalist community have welcomed the messages that have come from nationalist politicians in recent days but this was a chance to hear for ourselves what the situation was like on the ground,” Mr McQuiston said.
“We were assured that these people do not represent or have the support of the nationalist/republican community.
“As a result of that we would hope those responsible will be brought to book very quickly.
“As far as loyalists are concerned we are following a path of our own choosing and we will not be changing course to further anybody else’s agenda.”
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams has praised the approach taken by loyalist groups after the two attacks.
Mr Adams was speaking on Thursday after talks with the Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, in Dublin. He said the comments from the representatives of loyalism this week were “positive and encouraging”.