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Bloody Sunday, election, Irish, Ireland, British, Ulster, Unionist, Sinn Féin, SDLP, Ahern, Blair, Irish America

UVF ready to stand down

(by Liam Clarke, Sunday Times)

 

The UVF is preparing to issue a statement of intent to decommission its weapons and stand down as a paramilitary organisation.

The Progressive Unionist party, the UVF's political counterpart, is meeting Bertie Ahern on Wednesday to brief him on the plans. Meetings are also being arranged with Peter Hain, the secretary of state for Northern Ireland, and with other political and church leaders.

Yesterday (Saturday) it met the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC), which will be issuing a report on the state of the paramilitary ceasefires this week.

When the round of meetings is completed, the PUP will report back to the UVF. The terror group has had a statement prepared in draft form since January and has been waiting for the political process to bed down before committing itself. It should finally be issued next week in the run-up to the May 8 date for devolution.

A loyalist source close to the discussions said: "This process is now locked in. It is not a question of whether it will happen but of when and I am confident it will be sooner rather than later."

The details could be redrafted in the coming week, but the key element is likely to be the appointment of a representative to liaise with the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD). There will also be a statement of intent by the UVF to stand down as a paramilitary organisation and to dispose of its weapons.

"The UVF will be leaving the stage, that is the intention," a senior loyalist source said. The UVF, which has a highly centralised structure, waited until it was confident that the political situation was correct before making its move.

The group broke off relations with the IICD in 2003. Towards the end of last year it entered a period of internal consultation about its future. As part of this process David Ervine, the former leader of the PUP, and Andrew Park, his deputy, held a number of meetings with the IICD. Ervine also opened contact with Sinn Féin and reported back to the UVF that he believed there was no prospect of a resumption of IRA violence.

After Ervine's untimely death in January the process was delayed for a time, but his role of meeting the IICD has now been taken up by Dawn Purvis, his successor.

The UVF's remaining concern was that the DUP and Sinn Féin would fail to reach a deal on power-sharing and that the British and Irish governments would instead institute a system of joint rule over Northern Ireland. They feared that this would weaken the unionist position to the point where a united Ireland would become inevitable.

If the governments' Plan B was put into effect, some of the UVF leadership wanted to keep open the option of using violence and launching attacks on government institutions on both sides of the border.

Wednesday's meeting with the taoiseach is partly to seek reassurances that the Irish government is not planning on implementing Plan B and is not seeking to achieve a united Ireland against the wishes of the people of Northern Ireland.

Edwin Poots, a DUP minister designate in the Northern Ireland Assembly, has met the PUP and believes it is moving "in the right direction".

Poots believed the DUP, which currently refuses to meet paramilitary groups, may be prepared to give the UVF "political advice and analysis" if that is needed for it to finally renounce violence and decommission weapons. Poots said: "I believe devolution will work, and if that gives them confidence then it is right to tell them."

The UVF traces its roots back to Sir Edward Carson's volunteer force of 1912. The present-day organisation has been active since 1966. In order to disarm it must get the support of the Red Hand Commandos, a smaller group with its own command structure which shares weapons with the UVF.

According to figures compiled on the University of Ulster's conflict archive, the UVF was responsible for 427 murders during the Troubles and the Red Hand Commandos killed a further 13. Of the UVF victims 359 were civilians, six were members of the security forces, 21 were republican paramilitaries and 41 were members of loyalist terror groups. The Red Hand killed 12 civilians and one loyalist paramilitant.

In a report in January the IMC said that the UVF continued to be involved in violence but said it detected "signs of some people continuing their efforts to tackle criminality in the organisation and to reduce its capacity".

April 25, 2007
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This article first appeared in the Sunday Times on April 22, 2007.

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