Legal action over loyalist ceasefire status

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The continued indulgence of loyalist paramilitaries by the British government is being challenged with a legal action to force London to admit that their organisations are no longer maintaining “complete and unequivocal” ceasefires.

Lawyers for a woman bereaved in a loyalist paramilitary attack have written to the British Direct Ruler requesting that the UVF, UDA and Red Hand Commando are all ‘specified’ [as not being on ceasefire].

The measure would end public grant funding which has been funnelled to the loyalist crime gangs through front organisations since they first announced a ceasefire in 1994.

Brandon Lewis is also being asked to suspend the release licence of those loyalist prisoners who are still involved with the organisations and were freed early from jail as part of the Good Friday Agreement.

Lewis has been given two weeks to take the steps or face judicial review proceedings at the High Court.

The legal move comes after an umbrella group of the three loyalist paramilitary groups ‘withdrew support’ for the 1998 peace agreement. They also hinted at a return to intense violence by loyalists angered by new post-Brexit port checks.

The Loyalist Communities Council (LCC), an umbrella grup of loyalist gangs headed by former Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) politician David Campbell, renewed those warnings in a newspaper interview last weekend.

A UDA spokesman also told the Sunday Independent that politicians in the 26 Counties could be targeted over the Brexit protocol on trade between Ireland and Britain.

“If [Taoiseach] Micheál Martin and [Tanaiste] Leo Varadkar don’t get rid of the protocol, they will face the wrath of loyalism,” a UDA spokesperson told the Sunday Independent this week, telling the newspaper they could send letter bombs to targets in the 26 Counties.

Graffiti recently appeared in two locations in east Belfast threatening the 26 County leaders, including Varadkar’s home address, which was scrawled in white paint on the Newtownards Road.

Another possibly related attempt to ratchet up tensions has seen a flag showing recently released UDA killer Michael Stone raised near the Holy Cross Girls School in north Belfast. It carried the message ‘Hands up if you’re going to be sectarian today’. Sinn Féin described it as a “deliberate attempt to provoke and intimidate”.

In 2001 and 2002 Holy Cross school was targeted over seven months by a prolonged blockade , facilitated the PSNI, in which young schoolchildren were forced to run a guantlet of loyalist hate and violence in order to get to school.

Lawyers for the woman taking the case confirmed their intention to seek a judicial review if no response is received by April 7. An application for anonymity will also be made due to fears she may be targeted.

A lawyer for her legal firm, McIvor Farrell, said: “Loyalist paramilitary organisations cannot claim to be maintaining a complete and unequivocal ceasefire in order to secure the benefit of the Good Friday Agreement by way of early release from prison whilst at the same time withdrawing support for that very same agreement and suggesting that there may be a return to violence unless the Protocol is removed.

“There is either the rule of law or there is not. There is either a complete and unequivocal ceasefire or there is not.”

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