Using a long-standing cover name, loyalist paramilitaries in the UVF have sought to be legalised in a plan which has brought anger and incredulity to its victims.
Using the name of the Red Hand Commando, a group of loyalist paramilitary figures announced that they had travelled to London last Wednesday to petition the authorities there to be de-proscribed (legalised).
The British government has said it is considering the application, which may be related to the group’s attempt to secure ‘peace fund’ payments as a community group.
In a statement, the organisation sai they “hope that this course being taken by the Red Hand Commando can lay out a road map for the transformation of loyalist groups in general.”
The RHC is normally considered to be synonymous with the UVF. Over the course of the conflict, the murders of twelve innocent civilians have been directly claimed under the name.
Alan Brecknell, who was seven-years-old when his father, Trevor, was killed in a no-warning gun and bomb attack on Donnelly’s Bar in County Armagh, said he could not understand the motivation for the move.
Mr Brecknell said while it was “of course good that loyalists say they are committed to peace and community development, I cannot understand why they want to use the name Red Hand Commando.
“Why would a community worker want to call themselves a ‘commando’ of any kind?
“Every time bereaved families hear the term ‘Red Hand Commando’ it reminds them of the decades of pain and grief they have suffered. Why not leave it in the past where, they say, it belongs?”, he added.
Mark Thompson of Relatives for Justice said: “It is absolutely scandalous and adds insult to injury of the hundreds of victims of RHC and UVF.
“The silence from political unionism about this terrorist organisation stands in stark contrast to their position on republican actors”, he added.
Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly said any move to legalise the Red Hand Commando was “ludicrous”.
“How, and more importantly why, would you have a paramilitary organisation working as a community group? And what does that say to the victims of this organisation if their status and their activities is to be somehow legitimised? I am sure victims would find that abhorrent.”
Mr Kelly said the organisation was created as part of the UVF, which, he said, was still involved in drug dealing and murder. This week, tens of thousands of pounds in cash raised from drugs sales linked to the organisation in north Belfast were seized by the PSNI police.
On Monday, the UVF was also blamed for an attack in Larne in which shots were fired through a bedroom where three children were sleeping. Four shots were fired at a family home as part of ongoing disorder in the town. Two masked men armed with shotguns also hijacked a car.
In recent months several properties and vehicles in the Larne area have been targeted in arson attacks as part of a UVF-related feud. Two cars were gutted in a blaze at a house at around 3am on Sunday.
Prominent Belfast victims campaigner Raymond McCord implored the British Direct Ruler James Brokenshire not to lift the ban on the RHC. He said the loyalist grouping represented “gangsters” who should disband.
“They are not a community organisation, they represent no one except themselves, they are still involved in crime,” he said.