25 June 2009 Edition
Loyalist decommissioning confirmation expected
BY LAURA FRIEL
GENERAL John de Chastelain is expected to confirm that a process of weapon decommissioning by unionist paramilitaries has begun.
The process is believed to involve all the main loyalist organisations, including the UVF, the Red Hand Commando, the mainstream UDA, the breakaway south-east Antrim UDA and the LVF.
The process of decommissioning is supervised by the Independent Commission on Decommissioning, a body set up as part of the Good Friday Agreement. The commission is headed by John de Castelain, a retired Canadian general, and includes American and Finnish representatives.
A spokesperson for the commission refused to comment after details of loyalist decommissioning was leaked to the media. However, the spokesperson did confirm that the commission is expected to be reporting to the British Government by the end of August.
Earlier this year, the British Secretary of State Shaun Woodward extended legislation to allow loyalists further opportunity to engage in a process of decommissioning weaponry. That opportunity is set to end in August after which the issue of loyalist weaponry will be dealt with as part of the criminal justice system.
Initial media reports described a “significant” and “substantial” quantity of arms put beyond use by the UVF within the last two weeks. Later reports upped the scale of decommissioning with the Newsletter claiming that the “UVF is believed to have handed over its entire arsenal”.
According to the News Letter unionist daily newspaper, the move follows weeks of secret talks amongst loyalist groups and factions. The Combined Loyalist Military Command, under whose auspicates loyalist groups announced a ceasefire 15 years ago, has been re-formed to enable a process of comprehensive decommissioning to take place.
The British and Irish governments welcomed the reports but deferred comment on any loyalist decommissioning until official confirmation by de Chastlelain. However, the British Secretary of State appeared to confirm media reports while maintaining the niceties of decommissioning protocol.
Speaking at Hillsborough Castle on Thursday, Woodward said if the reports were to be confirmed, “What we would see would be a seismic transformation within loyalism. What they would say is that loyalism has carried out a major act of decommissioning.”
Loyalists had hoped to hold a joint press conference to announce a process of decommissioning was underway but those plans were abandoned. According to a loyalist source, a statement was scheduled for last Saturday and then rescheduled for Monday only to be put on hold while loyalists “review their position”.
The difficulty arose after the media reported a UDA ‘guns for cash’ demand. According to the BBC, the loyalist paramilitary group had wanted cash for loyalist community groups and the release of prisoners.
But the British Secretary of State immediately denied there had been any deals for weapons. “Let me be absolutely clear, there is no deal here, there is no negotiation with regards to this,” said Shaun Woodward.
It has been suggested that the UDA cut back on the number of weapons scheduled to be destroyed after British ministers ruled out a deal.
However, unconfirmed reports of loyalist decommissioning continued to be welcomed by politicians both sides of the border. Taoiseach Brian Cowen said the work had been ongoing with loyalist paramilitary organisations for many months.
DUP IN DISCUSSIONS
DUP First Minister Peter Robinson said his party had been involved in discussions with the UVF and UDA leadership over many months “to assist the transformation from paramilitary organisations into people who are playing their full part in a peaceful and democratic Northern Ireland”.
Gerry Kelly described loyalist decommissioning as “a great move forward”.
The Sinn Féin MLA added:
“There has been a number of false starts but there is some indication that this is the real thing.”