A number of loyalist paramilitary figures are to visit US political and business leaders in a visit being organised by the Dublin government, it has emerged.
So-called ‘Brigadier’ Jackie McDonald, a UDA leader who became a golf partner of Martin McAleese (husband of 26-County President Mary McAleese) is the most prominent of the men travelling to the US. Four UDA men were granted visas this week to make the visit despite their past involvement in attacks on Catholics.
They will travel on British passports, although their visits are being facilitated by Dublin’s Department of Foreign Affair.
McDonald will travel with Jimmy Birch, John Bunting and Denis Cunningham.
Cunningham is believed to have acted as spokesman for the UFF (a cover name for the UDA). Bunting was a senior figure within the north Belfast death squads, while Birch is a leading loyalist in the east of the city.
They were among the guests in Dublin during the state visit by the British royals in May. As they left one ceremony, Mrs McAleese and her husband made a point of shaking hands with the loyalists. McDonald said he had not yet been told the details of the trip, which he said would be about “information exchange.”
It is understood that among the politicians who will host them are well-known Irish American figures, Congressmen Peter King and Richie Neal.
Because of their backgrounds, special permission is required to allow them to enter the US.
UVF LEADER DIES
Loyalist serial killer Gusty Spence, a founder of the paramilitary UVF, died in hospital this week.
Spence involved himself in sectarian killings since the mid 1960s, before most historians consider the recent conflict to have started. He was convicted of the 1966 murder of a teenage Catholic barman, Peter Ward.
A lifetime leader of the UVF, he became its public face during the peace process, and was involved in the declaration of a loyalist ‘ceasefire’ in 1994.
Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly said: “Gusty Spence was a well known and influential figure with the UVF and many nationalists will remember him as central to the sectarianism that gave birth to the modern loyalist paramilitary.
“However, he did dedicate himself to peace and reconciliation for much of his later life so he will also be remembered as a major influence in drawing loyalism away from sectarian strife.”