Britain claims progress on loyalist decommissioning
Britain claims progress on loyalist decommissioning

Suggestions by the British government that unionist paramilitaries have begun to decommission their weapons are being treated with caution.

Reports in the media have claimed that some disarmament took place this month with the head of the decommissioning body, retired Canadian General John de Chastelain, in attendance.

No details have emerged regarding either the quantity or quality of the arms that were said to have been “put beyond use”.

General de Chastelain would not confirm the reports, which reportedly involved both the main unionist paramilitary groups, the UVF and the UDA.

The only loyalist group to have previously liaised with the body is the LVF. A token LVF act of decommissioning took place in December 1998 and was widely condemned as a publicity stunt.

The Provisional IRA completely decommissioned all its arms in 2005.

At a press conference at Hillsborough Castle, British Direct Ruler Shaun Woodward spoke of a “a seismic transformation within loyalism” -- but virtually every line that he uttered contained the preface, “if these reports are correct... “

Nevertheless, Woodward’s statement suggested that the UDA and UVF are again off the hook in regards to the annual British decommissioning ‘deadline’, which has been deferred every year for the last nine years.

Gen de Chastelain is due to make a report on disarmament in August, the latest such ‘deadline’.

Legislation to allow the UVF and UDA to move arms with impunity is now likely to be again extended until next year.

The PSNI police were also promoting the latest decommissioning claim.

“More guns are off the streets as a result of the decision by both the UDA, as I understand it, and the UVF,” PSNI Chief Hugh Orde said.

“I think it is a step change which shows a degree of organisation and commitment that perhaps we have not seen before,” he said.

Dawn Purvis, leader of the UVF-linked Progressive Unionist Party, said she could not confirm the reports. “What we do know is that all the loyalist organisations have been engaged with the [arms body]”.

Republicans highlighted concerns over the failure to provide independent confirmation of the move, as well as the convenient timing of the reports -- against the background of a loyalist purge against minority groups in Belfast and ahead of a highly provocative loyalist march in north Belfast later today.

However, Stormont junior Minister Gerry Kelly of Sinn Féin publicly added his support to the claims.

“It is a great move forward. There have been a number of false starts, [but] there is some indication that this is the real thing. They haven’t been confirmed, but certainly there is an atmosphere of some hope,” he said.


Meanwhile, Mr Kelly held a meeting with the Parades Commission following its decision to allow loyalist supporters to parade past the republican Ardoyne shops area as part of the so-called ‘Tour of the North’ this [Friday] night.

The ‘Tour of the North’ parades through a number of interface areas in North Belfast. In the past, widespread violence has broken out with shots fired and blast bombs thrown during rioting by both sides. But in recent years loyalist supporters following the bands and lodges have been banned from marching past Ardoyne shops.

Inexplicably the Parades Commission has this year decided to allow these hangers-on, who are quite often drunk, to march through this nationalist area.

“It is entirely the wrong decision,” said Mr Kelly.

“There has been no real dialogue in the course of the past 12 months and the decision of the Commission to facilitate this sort of coat trailing through Ardoyne is unacceptable and unnecessary.

“It has made an already difficult situation which inevitably results from this parade even worse.”

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